Congressional Corruption

Source citation
“Congressional Corruption,” New York Daily Times, 2 March 1857, p. 4.
Newspaper: Publication
New York Times
Newspaper: Headline
Congressional Corruption
Newspaper: Page(s)
Date Certainty
Leah Suhrstedt
Transcription date
The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print.  Spelling and other typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.

Congressional Corruption.

Congress has closed its work of purification. It has driven three of its members into the wilderness, as sinners above all the rest. They go as scape-goats went under the old dispensation, to carry with them the sins of the multitude,- to appease offended justice, and inspire a general faith in the holiness and purity of those whom they have left behind. Possibly the result in this case may equal their expectations. Our own impression, however, is, that the public at large, while they rejoice over the fact that Congress puts on record its disapproval of corruption by expelling men who, to say the least, have come to be strongly suspected of it, will also believe that the work has not been half don’t,- that more official dishonesty lurks concealed than has been exposed,- that men still hold their seats who are quite as corrupt as the men who have lost theirs,- and that the investigation ought to have extended over a wider field, been longer continued, and so reached the bottom of the slimy pool, instead of merely bringing a few of its bad bubbles to the surface.

We have from the outset earnestly sustained the Committee in its disagreeable and difficult task. It was a work which justice, the reputation of Congress and the welfare of the country demanded should be done. On the whole, it has been performed much more thoroughly and satisfactorily than we apprehended it would be at the outset. The Committee was an able one. The only service its Chairman seems to have rendered was to more its appointment. His Republican colleague Mr. RITCHIE was zealous, active and honest in his pursuit of iniquity, and creditably discarded all partisan calculations in the discharge of his duty. Col. ORR played the part of the bull-dog, and H. W. DAVIS that of the blood-hound, in this hunt after Congressional corruption. Both were important and essential parts, and they could not have been better cast. Judge WARNER was clear, honest and obstinate, and seconded everything that looked earnest. The result was a rather remorseless, but a pretty thorough, inquest within a narrow sphere. Partisan hatrede supplied the place of patriotism, and whatever deficit still remained was filled by personal malice. The Committee, in spite of its private injustices and its scorn of all law, on the whole deserves well of the country.

The section of the House shoed some curious inconsistencies. In the case of Mr. GILBERT, the first denied him a trial, Ayes 82, Noes 109. He then resigned his seat, and the resolutions declaring his guilt and expelling him from the House were laid on the table, 135 to 68. Mr. MATTESON’S case was then taken up. A letter from that gentleman was presented, protesting against the whole proceeding as illegal and unfair, and announcing his resignation of his seat. But a motion to lay the resolutions upon his case on the table, as had been done in Mr. GILBERT’s, failed,- 95 to 102. The first resolution, declaring:

“That Orsamus B. Matteson, a member of this House from the State of New York, did incite parties deeply interested in the passage of a joint resolution for constructing the Des Moines to have here and to use a large sum of money and other valuable considerations corruptly, for the purpose of procuring the passage of said joint resolution through this house;”

Was then adopted, by a vote of 145 to 17. The seventeen who voted against it probably had light on the subject which has not been vouch-safed to the public at large. The resolution simply repeats the facts stated in the following letter,- the genuineness of which was not disputed:

Private. WASHINGTON, July 15, 1856
DEAR SIR: The Committee of our House have signed to report your resolution in Minnesota to 212,000:-, or as you wished it, but there is much trouble in the way. Some outsiders make mischief. Are you willing to let your one-quarter of the factory be cut up and used to carry it though, in addition to what STRUKER arranged? I can have some agent promise outsiders stock in a new factory. Let me know without fail by return of mail.
Truly, O.B.M.

No explanation whatever of this letter has ever been given, so far as we are aware. Mr. MATTESON , Mr. COLFAX, Mr. BENNETT, and the others who voted against the resolution:- for, as the matter now stands, these gentlemen seem to have declared by their votes, that the transaction which Mr. M. proposed was not a corrupt proceeding, but was quite legitimate and proper. If they are willing to occupy this position, they have the right:- but we should be glad to see some explanation which would relieve them a little.

This matter disposed of, the House adopted a complacent, but by no means a self evident resolution, that Mr. MATTESON had defamed the character of the body by saying that there was a corrupt combination among its members. Of course nobody ventured to vote against this.

Mr. WELCH then came up for judgment, but having interposed no technical please, nor having made any attempt to protect himself, was acquitted upon the ground of insufficient testimony- 119 to 43. Mr. EDWARDA was the next customer- and after a speech partly in the nature of confession and partly as appeal ad misericordiam, resigned his seat, and the resolutions concerning him were tabled.

Thus the House wiped off the stains of corruption from its robes. Its next step was to expel the two witnesses by whom their existence had been brought to the public knowledge! This is a climax of justice which must command admiration. After expelling three of its members for corruption, the House felt so very pure that it expelled the men who had said it was ever otherwise. This is a little ahead of Caesar’s wife.

But the end was not yet. The Committee had digested and reported a bill which was to prevent Congress from ever becoming corrupt again. It was so framed as to render impossible hereafter say attempt upon Congressional virtue. Overjoyed at the prospect of being thus removed from temptation, the House refused to lay the bill on the table, 81 to 56, and then passed it 104 to 83. But being reminded of the inconvenience which its enactment might entail upon them, they suddenly wheeled about, reconsidered the vote, 128 to 56, and then laid the bill on the table. Congress is accordingly in just as much danger of being corrupted as it ever was.

Thus ends the play. It has had several characters- part tragedy, part very low comedy, and part broad farce. The inquiry was commenced in a panic; and cowardice, party malignity, personal malice, and sincere honesty mingled in the conduct of its several stages. While we cannot approve of all its parts, we are heartily rejoiced at the good results it is likely to bring about. It will check corruption, if it does not stop it. It will open the eyes of the country in part to the character of its representatives, and by making constituents more circumspect. There ought to be a standing Committee of the same sort at every session of Congress.

How to Cite This Page: "Congressional Corruption," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,