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The retroactive pay provided for in this amendment, unwise, indelicate, and indefensible as I believe it to have been, was in accordance with all the precedents, for every increase of pay of members of Congress since the adoption of the Constitution has applied to the whole term of the Congress that authorized it. It was not a crime, and we have no right to say that those who advocated it were thieves and robbers. I opposed the whole scheme of increase of salaries chiefly on two grounds:
First. That officers at the national Capital were already receiving higher rates of pay than many of those serving at a distance; and that if we began to increase salaries at the Capital, and particularly our own, it would be indecent and unjust not to go through the whole list and make the increase general. To do this would greatly increase the expenditures already overgrown by the results of the war ; and,
Second. I opposed it because I thought it peculiarly impolitic for the Forty-Second Congress to give any new cause for bringing itself into public odium. Much had already occurred to throw discredit upon it, and this would add a new shade to the colors in which it was being painted.
On the other hand, there were grave objections to the defeat of the appropriation bill. Everybody knew that its failure would render an extra session of the new Congress inevitable. It is easy to say now that this would have been better than to allow the passage of the salary clause. Present evils always seem greater than those that never come. The opinion was almost universal that an extra session would be a serious evil in many ways, and especially to the Treasury. Its cost, directly and indirectly, would sar exceed the amount appropriated for retroactive salaries. An unusual amount of dangerous
legislation was pressing upon Congress for action. A measure to resund the cotton tax, which would take seventy millions from the Treasury, was pressed by a powerful organization in and out of Congress, and its consideration had only been prevented by interposing the appropriation bills. A vast number of doubtful claims growing out of the war were ready to follow in the wake of the cotton tax. To organize a new Congress, which would require the appointment and organization of new committees, and to begin this bill anew, perfect its details, and pass it, would require many weeks. In the meantime the field would be clear for pushing all schemes against the Treasury.
But more than this, the defeat of the bill would carry with it the defeat of the only legislation by which Congress has attempted for many years to check the career of those greedy corporations whose powers have become so dangerous to the public welsare. For the first time Congress was thoroughly aroused to the danger; and the sections concerning the Pacific railroad, which had been added to this bill, empowered and directed the executive, through the courts, to strike an effective blow against those who had already robbed the Pacific railroad at the expense of the National Treasury. If these sections failed, it was by no means certain that the new Congress would pass them; and if it did, the interests of the Government would greatly suffer by the delay.
Only a single day and night remained before the final adjournment, and three other great appropriation bills were still unfinished.
These considerations were inseparably connected with the defeat of this appropriation bill. I knew that is it failed from any act of mine, the responsibility for its failure would rest more heavily on me than upon any other member. I had been made
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responsible for its management, but was in no way responsible for the adoption of the salary amend. ment.
After weighing the case as well as I could, I concluded it was my duty to stand by the bill; and I did so.
I remained in the conference, and did what I could to perfect the bill and reduce the amount appropriated by it. On my motion the following proviso was made a part of the bill : “ Provided, That in settling the pay and allowances of members of the Forty-Second Congress, all mileage shall be deducted, and no allowances shall be made for expenses of travel.” The sum deducted from the additional back pay, under this proviso, amounted in the aggregate to nearly $400,000; and the pay to the members of the late Congress is made less than those of the next Congress by the total amount of actual traveling expenses.
The other sixty-four amendments to the bill were satisfactorily adjusted, after many hours of deliberation. Having done what I could to persect the bill, I signed the conference report and presented it to the House; but in doing so I stated that I alone had opposed the salary clause in the conference committee, and had done what I could to strike it out, and that I had signed the report rather than run the risk of losing the bill. I then voted for the bill, not for the increase of salaries nor for the retroactive clause, for I was opposed to both, but for the bill as a whole.
It is clear that it would have passed if I had voted against it. But believing that it was better to pass the bill, even with the salary amendment included, than risk the consequences of its failure, I voted for it. It would have been an inconsistent and cowardly act on my part to vote against it merely to escape criticism.
If the bill, as reported from the conference committee, ought to have been defeated, there was one well-known and very easy way to do it. One-frfth of the members present, by dilatory and filibustering motions and calling the ayes and noes, could have prevented a vote on the report till the end of the session. Should the ninety-six members who voted against the conference report be censured for not preventing its adoption ? Less than half of their number could easily have done so. But no one of them, so far as I know, thought it his duty to defeat the bill. Certainly I did not think it the duty of the chairman of the Committee on Appropriations to lead such a movement.
It has been said that the conference report might have been recommitted for a further attempt to strike off the salary clause. The answer to this is, that the House, on an aye and no vote, by nineteen majority, ordered the question to be put on the adoption of the report.
The plain fact is, that the final vote on the bill was not a test of the sentiments of members of the House on the salary question. The responsibility for the increase of salaries rests upon those who forced the amendment upon the bill.
There is one feature of the case to which I refer with great reluctance, and with a deep sense of the injustice that is done me. It is charged that I voted for the bill for the purpose of putting $5,000 of back pay into my own pocket. I fearlessly appeal to friends and enemies alike to say whether any act of . my public life has warranted them in imputing to me unworthy and mercenary motives. The point here raised is one to which I did not intend to reser in this letter. I preferred to leave my personal motives to the future for vindication. But already, without my knowledge or procurement, a paragraph
has found its way to the press which makes it proper for me to say what I did not wish paraded in public, that I not only did not receive the back pay nor any part of it, but I ordered it so covered into the general Treasury as to be placed beyond the reach of myself or my heirs.
I have thus stated the facts in the case, that you may know precisely what I did, and the reasons for it. I desire that this and every other act of my public life shall be fully known to you. Ten years ago you called me from another field of duty and honor to represent you in the national Legislature. Since then you have expressed your considence and esteem in many ways, and in none more strikingly than in the five re-elections with which you have honored me.
I have not been insensible to these evidences of your approval. I have conscientiously sought to serve you and the country with the best of my ability. I have spared neither time nor labor faithfully to discharge the duties of the place assigned me.
Doubtless I have made my full share of mistakes and blunders, and my vote on this bill may have added another to the list. I respect no man the less for thinking so, but in this as in all my official conduct I acted for what I regarded the public good. Whether wise or unwise, defensible or indefensible, that vote had the approval of my judgment, and I do not shrink from any responsibility growing out of it.
But I do not affect to conceal my surprise and disappointment at the construction which has been given to that vote. Probably no man who, conscious of his own integrity, has served a constituency as long as I have served you could see the basest of motives attributed to him and listen to a public demand for his instant resignation with indifference,