New York Times, “Corruption in Congress,” February 17, 1857

Source citation
“Corruption in Congress,” New York Times, February 17, 1857, p. 4: 2-3.
Newspaper: Publication
New York Daily Times
Newspaper: Headline
Corruption in Congress
Newspaper: Page(s)
Newspaper: Column
Date Certainty
Meghan Allen, Dickinson College
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.

Corruption in Congress.

To-day, it is expected, the Committee of Investigation will report the result of its inquiry into the charges of Congressional Corruption. It is over a month since the inquest was begun. Numerous witnesses have been examined,--some of whom are reported to have told all they knew, while others, it is suspected, found it convenient to know but little. The Committee has made a great show of zeal, and we believe has been desirous of probing the charges to the bottom. It embraced among its members several gentlemen of character, intellectual ability and legal experience: and whatever errors they may have committed, we have no reason to suspect them of any wish or willingness to screen the guilty or to ignore abuses in Congressional legislation.

The investigation grew out of an editorial in the DAILY TIMES of Jan. 6, which was read in the House of Representatives by the clerk upon the demand of HON. Mr. KELSEY of New-York. An effort was immediately made by several members to sneer the matter down by stigmatizing the charges as mere newspaper slander,--and the attempt would probably have proved successful, but for the prompt declaration of Mr. PAINE of North Carolina, that in one specific instance he knew the charges to be true. A resolution was then adopted, ordering an investigation, and ostentatiously basing it, not upon newspaper statements, but upon the explicit declaration of a member of the House. Yet the record of the first day’s proceedings of the Committee will show that they took the ground at the very outset, that the inquiry was ordered exclusively on account of the charges made in the DAILY TIMES, and that the Editor of that journal must give evidence which should convict individual members of the corruption charged, or the whole investigation must fall through. This was a very ingenious dodge on the part of the Committee. Its real purpose was to change the character of the inquiry, and to make it an inquest upon the TIMES instead of one upon Congress. In spite of the seductions of the Committee, backed by the bulling of a large portion of the Press, the TIMES declined to accept the honor and responsibility of such a position. The Committee was assured that the TIMES was not responsible to Congress or its Committees,--but to the legal tribunals of the country,--for its conduct:--that the position taken by the Committee was precisely the opposite of that taken by the House,--and that, while the TIMES would take care that all the statements it had made should be sustained to the satisfaction of the public, it neither acknowledge nor assumed any responsibility for the Committee, which must perform the duty imposed upon it in its own way and to the best of its ability. The TIMES had brought no charge against individual members; it had asserted no personal knowledge of corruption in Congress on the part of its Editor, nor did it claim to be in possession of legal evidence which would convict any person of the misconduct charged. It did claim knowledge of the truth of its statements entirely sufficient for its own purpose, which was to call public attention to the evil. Congress wanted more knowledge, and for a different purpose, namely the punishment of the guilty parties and the vindication of its own character:--and it had imposed upon the Committee, and not upon the TIMES, the investigation of the subject.

The Committee, it is presumed, acquiesced in the view of the case,--which has at all events been the basis of its subsequent action. How far they have succeeded in obtaining testimony upon the subject, their report will show. From the very outset we have foreseen the difficulties that would embarrass their action. Witnesses to corruption must from the necessities of the case be, to some extent, accomplices in it; and they are not very likely to come forward to criminate themselves. There are so many ways, moreover, of evading direct responsibility in such cases, that it is very difficult to fasten upon individual members acts of corruption of which they may have been guilty. Still we shall be greatly surprised if the report does not disclose quite enough to justify everything that the TIMES has said upon the subject. We reprint in another portion of this sheet the article which prompted the inquiry,--in order that the precise nature of our statements on this subject may be understood. It will be seen how unfounded are the assertions, so freely made, that we claimed to be in possession of evidence that would convict members of the Congress of corruption. But if the Committee has found such evidence, we shall be fully justified by it in everything we have stated on the subject,--and we have no doubt the public will decide that it was quite time such misconduct should be denounced and branded as it deserves.

Minor Figures

William Henry Kelsey (1812-1879) – Served as a US Representative from New York from March 4, 1855 to March 3, 1859 and March 4, 1867 to March 3, 1871.

Robert Treat Paine (1812-1872) – Served as a US Representative from North Carolina from March 4, 1855-March 3, 1857. Paine was a member of the American Party.
How to Cite This Page: "New York Times, “Corruption in Congress,” February 17, 1857," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,