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Publication of Secret Proceedings.
A message from the Senate informed the House that the Senate have passed the bill, entitled "An act in addition to the act, entitled An act to raise an additional military force," passed January 11, 1812;" which bill was passed by this House under the injunction of secrecy.
The House proceeded to reconsider the bill passed by the two Houses, entitled "An act providing for the trial of causes depending in the respective district courts of the United States, in case of the absence or disability of the judges thereof," which had been returned by the President with objections: and, on motion of Mr. GRUNDY, the bill and objections were ordered to lie on the table.
S., that the substance of the information which Mr. Rounsavell published in his paper, he did derive from conversation of myself with others; whether he got other particulars from other mem. bers, I know not. The circumstance was this: The night the embargo law passed this House, I met with a member who was absent, and ignorant of what had passed. Upon meeting with this gentleman he inquired of me what had been done? I briefly told him, and I have reason to believe Mr. Rounsavell was in such a situation as to hear what I said. Having made this statement, I will make a few other remarks. I had a seat in Congress when each of the former embargoes under this Constitution were laid. The mode in which they came before the House was in those cases such as to enable us to keep them
A message was received from the President of the United States transmitting a report of the Superintendent of Public Buildings, in conform-secret. In every instance except the present, the ity to a resolution of this House calling for information of debts due for work done on the Public Buildings, together with a letter of Mr. Latrobe on the same subject.
first intimation relative to the embargo came from the President to the House in a confidential shape, and the doors were immediately closed. What was the fact in this case? The measure [The letter of the Superintendent transmits to originated in the Committee of Foreign Relathe President a statement in detail made by Mr. tions. It was proposed there that it should be Latrobe, by whom the expenditure had been au-kept secret; when a member of the committee thorized, of the amount due for work on the Public Buildings, the total or recapitulation of which is as follows:
$14 425 06
The Message and documents were referred to the Committee of Ways and Means.
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rose and declared he would not be bound-he would not keep it a secret. This destroyed at once the efficacy of any such determination on - 5,967 79 the part of the committee; we might as well 3823 75 have discussed the subject with open doors as 1,683 52 with closed doors, had it not been from respect 2,950 00 to the Message of the President recommending a different course. What was published in the Herald, therefore, was of no importance; when the subject of discussion was known to all, it was of very little consequence to know who was chairman, and who spoke, and how many voted. If the House must have a victim, and it appears to me some gentlemen would be very willing to A letter was laid before the House from Na- have one, I offer myself in the room of this man; thaniel Rounsavell, the witness now in the cus- he has suffered too much already. The quo antody of the Sergeant-at-Arms. The letter dis-imo constitutes the essence of every crime; it claims any intention to have violated the respect due to the House by the publication which he had made; it declares that the conversation which the writer had was inadvertent, as he believes, on the part of the members who partook in it, and entirely without any intention on their part, as he believes, to violate the order of the House; that he had been refused by the committee an opportunity to explain his testimony; and that his only motive for refusing to answer was, that if he were to answer the question as propounded to him, it might have the effect of criminating those who had committed no crime, and from whose conversation, but for previous and subsequent knowledge, he could not have ascertained that an embargo had been the subject of discussion, &c.
Mr. SMILIE said it was in his power, he believed, to make a statement to the House which would procure a discharge of this man. Had the original motion succe ded yesterday, he should then have risen and stated what he was now about to say, because he had been determined that the man should not suffer. I do believe, said Mr.
cannot then be supposed, after the warm support I have given to this measure, that I could have any unfriendly intention towards it. I well know the powers of this House; and I know the limits of those powers. The House will take such steps as they think proper. I have taken my ground; I am prepared for the event. He would further observe that in relation to the suspicion of members having influenced Rounsavell to refuse to answer, that he had not seen him from the time of the conversation he had stated until after his appearing before the committee and refusing to answer.
Mr. Smilie was asked to name the member of the Committee of Foreign Relations, to whom he had just alluded, and replied that his name was no secret-it was Mr. Randolph.
Mr. JENNINGS said it might not be improper to state that he lodged in the same house with the gentleman from Pennsylvania; that he (Mr. J.) was not well on the first of April, and had left the House a little after twelve o'clock in the day; that he continued at home during the day until the House adjourned; that the gentleman from
Publication of Secret Proceedings.
Pennsylvania (Mr. SMILIE) was one of the first members who had come into the room after adjournment, and was asked by Mr. J. what had been done; to which Mr. S. replied that the law had passed, and perhaps stated the majority; that a moment after, he (Mr. J.) saw the witness (Rounsavell) appearing at the door. Nothing further that he could recollect was said, though it might have been, and he not have heard of it. Mr. CALHOUN said, that the member of the Committee of Foreign Relations, (Mr. RANDOLPH,) to whom allusion had been made, not being in his seat, he would state how the fact just stated had occurred in the committee. That gentleman stated (said Mr. C.) that he had doubts of the power of the committee to compel him to secrecy; but the gentleman also stated that he had just returned from Baltimore, where he found the British Consul possessed the knowledge of an intended embargo, and that a great commercial house was acting on it, and therefore he did not feel it his duty to keep the secret. I, sir, was the one who made the motion that our proceed ing should be confidential. After the statement made by the gentleman from Virginia, that he should feel it his duty to proclaim the fact, combined with other circumstances. I did not feel so strongly the obligation, and the motion for secrecy was waived. Under the impression that it was no longer a duty to confine the knowledge of this transaction to the bosom of the committee, I mentioned it to the gentlemen from Boston and other commercial cities, that they might be aware of the transaction; I did it from a sense of duty, that they might be as well informed on this head as other members of the House. I believe the House will see, if a committee have not power to enforce secrecy on its members in relation to its proceedings, we shall frequently be very disagreeably situated; but any such determination appearing in this case nugatory, and means being taken to diffuse the knowledge of what passed, on a consultation with others of the committee, we Conceived it unnecessary, as it would be unavailing, to conceal from the members, at least, what had passed in committee.
Mr. QUINCY rose to state the circumstances as they had occurred on the day, alluded to, and he had it in his power to do so, because, anticipating that some difficulty might arise, and wishing to relieve himself from blame, he had, on the morning after the occurrence, committed it to paper,
"MARCH 31, 1812. "MEMORANDUM.-Mr. Calhoun, of South Carolina, a member of the Committee of Foreign Relations, this day informed me that the Committee of Foreign Relations had come to a determination that an embargo should be proposed to Congress for its adoption tomorrow. I asked him if I was at liberty to mention this as a fact from him. He replied that I was at liberty. He said that the gentlemen of the committee were generally of opinion that the subject should be kept secret. But Mr. Randolph, one of the committee, had declared that he would not consider himself bound to any such obligation. The committee,
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"I find the same information has been communi
cated by other members of the committee to various "JOSIAH QUINCY."
members of Congress.
"Mr. Calhoun has since stated to me, that the reasons given by Mr. Randolph for refusing to agree to the injunction of secrecy were, 1st. That he doubted the right of the committee to enjoin secrecy; 2d. That having just returned from Baltimore, he had heard, while in that city, that the intention to lay an embargo was already kown in that city, and that the British Consul and a great mercantile house there were then acting on the information. J. Q."
Mr. SEYBERT said, after what had been stated by his colleague, it was very evident that the information which had found its way to the public had been inadvertently communicated by a member; and he hoped the House was satisfied with the result. When he made the original motion, yesterday, for detaining this person, Mr. S. said he was desirous of a modification of it; he had not contemplated so rigorous a confinement as it would perhaps have comprehended. He was now perfectly satisfied, and considered it his duty to move that the witness be discharged from the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms.
Mr. ROBERTS was opposed to discharging the witness until he had explained a sentence of his letter to the Speaker, in which he had asserted that he was not permitted to explain his testimony. The fact was, that the committee had acted with the greatest patience and liberality towards the witness, and extended to him every indulgence in their power, and his assertion was therefore unwarranted.
Mr. MACON, in the absence of Mr. RANDOLPH, thought proper to remark that he had heard of the embargo in Baltimore, and the report had brought him here. It appeared, then, it was no secret at all. This was the first instance, indeed, Mr. M. said, in this Government in which a committee had undertaken to make a secret for itself. No such power of a committee was recognised the House to a committee, they must in that by the House. Being confidentially referred by
case act on it in the same manner; otherwise believe there was a man in the nation who would there was, perhaps, no obligation. He did not be farther from doing a dishonorable act than the gentleman from Virginia, whose name had been called in question.
Mr. WIDGERY thought it was pretty clear by this time that the House ought not to keep the man in confinement for disclosing what it appeared was no secret. No man would go further to support the rights of the House than himself; but he could not, therefore, keep in confinement for a moment longer a man who, it was now evi
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Publication of Secret Proceedings.
dent, had not published a secret of the House. I feel that it is already sinking, and if we go on as Surely of all others, printers were least liable to inquisition on such charges.
Mr. PEARSON compared the testimony of the witness before the committee with the statement of Mr. SMILIE; the witness says he partook in the conversation, whilst the gentleman from Pennsylvania had stated that he did not advert to the witness being present until after he had given the information to the gentleman from Indiana, (Mr. JENNINGS.) Mr. P. wished the gentleman from Pennsylvania to explain, so as to apprize the House whether or not the witness had spoken truth. As to this being no secret, Mr. P. said it was pretty much of a secret to him, and he knew not how to express his objection to the mode of proceeding by which some were kept in ignorance of a measure with which others were made acquainted. He had not an idea of the embargo question being brought forward long being it was proposed. After the message was received, at least, an injunction of secrecy was laid; and whatever might have taken place before, it ought to have closed the lips of the members of the House on the subject till that injunction was removed.
Mr. SMILIE said he could only say, whatever the witness had said, that he had stated the fact precisely as it had occurred in his presence.
Mr. KEY called the attention of gentlemen to the real question before them, which was not the manner of the disclosure, but the conduct of the witness. The facts had happened in the committee as stated, and until the receipt of the Message of the President there had been no injunction of secrecy. Mr. K. freely acquitted the gentleman from Pennsylvania of any intention of violating that injunction. The question before the House, brought into view by the letter before them from the witness, was this, and was well worthy of consideration: When a man is committed by authority of the House for a contempt of its power, what is required to discharge him? The contempt was, at this moment, the only subject for their consideration.
Mr. SHEFFEY said it was indeed true that the House had lost sight entirely of the true question, and had got hold of altogether a distinct subject. The real question was one in which every man in the country was interested. Mr. S. dwelt at some length on the necessity, for the purposes of justice, and for preserving the dignity of this body, of pursuing the inquiry and compelling the witness to answer. The best course was not to be driven from their purpose till their purpose was answered. The contest now was between the obstinacy of an individual and their authority. Let the individual be brought in, and let not the House be carried away by considerations which have no bearing on the question. It was no question of punishment for the offence of divulging the proceedings of the House; but this person was before them as a witness, and he ought to be compelled to answer. God knows (said Mr. S.) that the authority of the General Government is already sufficiently depreciated. Every man must
you propose, you will find your authority not so energetic as you suppose it. Nothing will tend more to relax it than suffering an individual to set up his own will in opposition to your order. Let him submit, as every man is obliged to do even in a petty county court, to answer your interrogatories. Whether I am in a majority or minority, I have too much respect for the authority of this House, and of Government, to suffer it to be thus contemned.
Mr. SEYBERT said he was not by any means regardless of the authority of this House; and to give way to such motion as gentlemen might think proper to try the sense of the House on, he withdrew his motion.
Mr. GOLD then moved that Nathaniel Rounsavell be brought to the bar of the House.
Mr. GRUNDY Submitted to the House whether, after the statement of the gentleman from Pennsylvania, the majesty of the nation here represented would not be more respected by saying to the witness, "go, you are at liberty-pursue your lawful business"-than in further questioning the man. Although he would be disposed to enforce the powers of this House when necessary, on this occasion he felt no disposition to do it. There was a great difference, he said, between the possession of power and an unnecessary exercise of it. This was a case in which he deemed it unnecessary. Mr. G. then adverted to the statement of the witness, that he had been refused an opportunity to explain his testimony. The fact was, that the witness had only been refused the insertion of his reasoning. When asked if he had seen or conversed with the member from w hom he derived his information, he refused to answer, assigning as a reason that he had seen and conversed with many members, and if he were to answer the question in the affirmative, each one who had conversed with him would be suspected.
Mr. TALLMADGE made a number of observations, going to show the propriety of pursuing this inquiry, the more particularly as there was a variation between this evidence of the witness and the statement of the gentleman from Pennsylvania. As a member of the committee, Mr. T. stated, when the committee expected, from the course of the testimony, that the witness was coming to the point of giving the names of those concerned, he was informed that anything which had inadvertently been disclosed, so far from being reported to the House, would not have induced the committee to name any person whatever, because no sort of criminality would attach to such a disclosure. If, under such circumstances, you dismiss this man, who could have no motive for refusing, without compelling him to answer, it would be letting down the dignity of the House, and would set an example which will hereafter be followed by every person similarly situated, with a hope of like impunity.
Mr. GOLD was not so anxious to probe this subject to the bottom, seeing the circumstances this day disclosed, as to preserve some propriety in their proceedings. The contempt of the witness
Publication of Secret Proceedings.
in refusing to answer the interrogatory, ought under no circumstances to be passed over as had been proposed. The interrogatories put to the witness were fit and proper, and how were they answered? Was the witness to answer as the House chose to direct, or as he pleased? If you let the man pass thus, your Journals will present a precedent which will be hereafter deeply regretted. He would compel the man to answer. Mr. GHOLSON said he had very few remarks to make. He observed, that, from the present aspect of this subject, he could not, consistently with his conscience, impute to the venerable gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. SMILIE) any criminality or moral turpitude for the conversation from which the witness (Rounsavell) had, as it seems, collected a part of the secret proceedings of the House. To render an act culpable, it must be committed with an evil intention. Mr. G. asked what evil intention could have actuated the gentleman from Pennsylvania? The observations of that gentleman, disclosing, in some measure, the confidential proceedings of the House, were, it would appear, inadvertent; or, if you please, it may be that they were indiscreet and imprudent. We, sir, are all frail mortals, and considering the long, honorable, and useful life of the gentleman from Pennsylvania, it is almost impossible to conceive that the gentleman could have been influenced by any vicious inclination. He was neither to gain or lose anything by what he said. But, said Mr. G., while these are my honest impressions, as it relates to the member implicated in this transaction, yet I cannot concur with the gentleman from Tennessee, (Mr. GRUNDY,) in the opinion that the witness ought to be forthwith discharged. If the House was in the right, yesterday, in committing the witness, it follows, of course, that the witness was in the wrong. And although I am satisfied as to this affair, by the disclosure of the gentleman from Pennsylvania, and wish no further investigation of it, still I think the witness, for his contumacy in refusing to answer the interrogatories propounded to him yesterday, ought to be reprimanded by the Speaker. For this purpose, while I feel no indignation or resentment, but rather compassion, towards the unfortunate young man in custody, I shall vote for having him brought before the House. The precedent we are about to establish may be of importance.
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he would not answer the question propounded to him; and thus the House was set at defiance, which he would not permit with impunity from any individual, be him poor or be him rich, be him humble or be him great. The House, for this contempt, had ordered the witness into custody. Had he, by his letter, or in any way, purged himself of this contempt offered to the House? He begged gentlemen to reflect upon what they are about to do. Suppose this man be discharged, and that letter be entered on the Journals of the House as the ground of his discharge from confinement. Would it not hereafter be brought into precedent? Suppose, said he, a committee appointed hereafter on any other subject, and a person by them brought before us shall refuse to answer. What a precedent would the Journals afford to encourage him to persevere in his contumacy! Can the House of Representatives commit a man for contempt of their authority, and of course of that of the people represented in them, and discharge him without compelling him to answer? This was not a case, Mr. R. said, in which the liberty of the press is concerned as much as the rights and dignity of the House, and consequently of the people of the United States; and he hoped the House would proceed in such a way as to cause them to be respected.
Mr. W. ALSTON said, if he believed, with the gentleman from Delaware, that to discharge the witness would compromit the dignity of the House, he should pursue the same course as him. But he did not so believe. The ground on which he proposed to discharge the witness was, that his answer, if coerced, would not be of sufficient importance to warrant taking the trouble. Every one being now satisfied of the manner in which he obtained his information, what more was wanted?
Mr. McKIM said, he did not, for his part, wish to have the witness again before the House. He saw nothing which made the pursuit of this object worthy the attention of the House. It was an object, in his opinion, beneath the notice of the House, especially when he considered the nature of the inquiry now on foot into the disclosure of a secret which it appeared had been openly disclosed otherwise. He was not willing, for his part, to crush the proud spirit of the man who would endure punishment rather than expose his friend. If we commit him, it is he who will enjoy the triumph, and not we. If we dismiss him magnanimously, we shall do better. The subject will not warrant going the lengths we can. There is a precedent on record in a neighboring State, where a man was brought to the bar of the House and whipped to death. This was an exertion of power which inflicted disgrace on those who used it. I hope we shall be more moderate. I wish not to see the utmost power of the House exercised on an obscure in
Mr. ROBERTS stated the circumstances which had taken place before the committee, and the ground of refusal to insert his reasoning on the face of the testimony, which the witness in his letter had mistakenly stated to be a refusal of permission to explain. He was satisfied the business should rest as it was. He could see no benefit from now pursuing the question to the extremity some seemed to contemplate, and thought the dignity of the House would be better consulted by permitting him to depart unmolested. Mr. RIDGELY said he rose to support the dig-dividual. nity of the House. He detailed the facts in this ease. Before the assembled majesty of the nation this person had declared to the House that
Mr. GHOLSON moved to amend the motion for bringing the witness to the bar of the House by adding the words, "to receive a reprimand from
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Publication of Secret Proceedings.
the Speaker of the House for his contumacy in refusing to answer the questions propounded to him."
Some desultory conversation took place on this amendment.
am sure that my honorable colleague, who made the present motion, can have no motive for crushing the inquiry. When the witness says he will answer, shall we say we shrink from questioning him further, lest some of ourselves shall be imthat any injury can result from letting the man answer the inquiries proposed. I beg to be understood, that, in this case, I neither censure highly the conduct of any man in regard to the publication, nor have I any suspicion that any members
Mr. BIBB expressed his regret at the embarrass-plicated by his answers? It is not conceivable ment under which the House now labored. It appeared to him that the only question now before the House should be, whether or not the witness had committed a contempt against the authority of the House; and, if so, whether he should be punished for it. He proposed to pro-are censurable. But we shall commit the honor ceed thus: to call the witness again to the bar; to ask the witness whether he was willing to answer such interrogatory as should be propounded to him by the Speaker, and on his answering in the affirmative, he should be willing to discharge
Mr. GHOLSON withdrew his motion.
Mr. BIBB moved to amend the motion that Mr. Rounsavell be brought to the bar, by adding, in substance, "and questioned whether he was willing to answer such interrogatory as should be proponded to him by the House."
This amendment was adopted, and the resolution as amended was agreed to.
Mr. Rounsavell was brought to the bar by the Sergeant-at-Arms.
The Speaker put to him a question to this effect Are you willing to answer such question as shall be propounded to you by order of
The witness answered in the affirmative, and was then ordered to.withdraw.
Mr. SEYBERT said, after what had passed, he presumed every one was satisfied there was no occasion to pursue the inquiry, and as the witness had submitted to the authority of the House, he moved the following resolution:
Resolved, That Nathaniel Rounsavell, now in the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms of this House, for a contempt of its authority in not answering the questions propounded to him by order of the House, having submitted to answer, and purged himself from the contempt, be discharged from said confinement."
of the House if we do not now, when the witness stands ready to answer, propound those interrogatories which the committee had laid on the table. He was anxious only that they might not establish a dangerous precedent. None of us are afraid to hear him. If not, why shall we not hear his answer? It is to ward off the dangers I see hanging over this House, from the establishment of a precedent which shall hereafter tie up their hands, that I am opposed to the motion. Standing, as I do, in the minority, I am much less interested in the discussion of this question than those in the majority; because, in general, if the majority determine to keep any matter secret, it is much more to be expected that a member of the minority than of the majority should disclose the secret; and I therefore warn the majority against a misplaced indulgence to this man. If hereafter, a case should occur in which members of the minority shall be suspected of being implicated, and they shall act differently, they will subject themselves to the charge of acting with unprecedented rigor.
Mr. SEYBERT said, he very much regretted that his colleague (Mr. MILNOR) did not, on to-day, place him under the same obligations as he had done the day before. On yesterday, he saved him the trouble of making a speech in reply to the question of the gentleman from Connecticut (Mr. PITKIN ;) but, to-day, he forced him into an argument in self-defence. His colleague observed, his resolution to release the witness was an extraordinary proposition. To this he readily assented, Mr. MILNOR thought, that of all the proposi- but its extraordinary character was derived solely tions which had been submitted to the House, from its being offered on a very extraordinary this was the most extraordinary. He was truly occasion. His present feelings did not permit astonished, he said, at its being made, because the him to pass entirely unobserved what fell from necessity of it could not be shown by any force him in debate while in conclave on the embargo of argument. Why was this inquiry set on foot? bill, which was lately passed. Much is now said Was not its object to ascertain whether any mem- by gentlemen respecting the conduct of the genbers had violated the honor and dignity of the tleman from Pennsylvania, (Mr. SMILIE,) withHouse by the disclosure of the proceedings of out regard to their own conduct connected with the House? An individual member had indeed the same subject; a conduct which he certainly come forward and declared that he had inadvert- never could pretend to justify. The safety of the ently dropped expressions from which the man nation and its successful efforts must always demight have gathered this knowledge. He ac-pend upon a propriety of conduct; no individual quitted his colleague of intentional disclosure, as he had done nothing more than what any other man might have done. But where, Mr M. said, is now the propriety towards my honorable colleague from Pennsylvania, or towards the other members of the House, in discharging this man when he professes himself willing to answer the House? Do members shake in their shoes? I
considerations could outweigh these paramount considerations. He, in common with other members, had been made acquainted with the inten tions of the Executive; he was told that the House would soon be called to act confidentially on an Executive communication, the design of which was to lay a temporary embargo. His indignation was expressed on the publicity of a