Sunday, July 10, 2011

Battling In The Senate

As noted earlier, I have been out of town for a few days and have the blog autoposting, but July 10, 1861 was an important day in the U.S. Senate and worth noting in this quickie post. Lincoln had transmitted with his July 4 message a list of legislative requests to raise and pay for an army. However, the first order of business that the Senate took up was addressing the legitimacy of the President's actions while Congress had been out of session.

The President had made arrangements for and begun a war without Congressional approval, so his allies in the Senate set about passing a resolution approving of everything he had done so far ( thanks to the departure of the Southern delegates they were the majority party, 30-16 -- officially, anyway, soon to be 30-13 when three Senators who hadn't bothered resigning were expelled on July 11).

The joint resolution (S. No. 1) was introduced by Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts (and future Vice President to Ulysses S. Grant) and resolved that "the extraordinary acts, proclamations and orders... are hereby approved and declared to be in all aspects legal and valid, to the same intent, and with the same effect as if they had been issued and done under the previous express authority and at the direction of the Congress of the United States."

The acts were:
  1. Calling for 75,000 troops on April 15
  2. Establishing the naval blockade of seceded states on April 19
  3. Expanding the blockade to additionally seceded states (VA and NC) on April 27
  4. Authorizing general-in-chief Winfield Scott to suspend the writ of habeas corpus on a line between Philadelphia and Washington
  5. Making 42,034 volunteers members of the U.S. Army or U.S. Navy, adding to their end strength at 22,714 and 18,000 men, respectively (don't ask me how those numbers add up...)
  6. Authorized suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in occupied areas of Florida (mostly the Keys)
For serious procedural nerds, S. No. 1 was reported out of the Military Committee favorably, without amendment on Monday, July 8, and Democratic Senator Trusten Polk of Missouri objected to it being taken up immediately (born in Bridgeville, Delaware and apparently unrelated to the former President of the same surname, Polk would be expelled in January and join the Confederate States Army as a military judge).

The debate begins here. It follows a familiar pattern to observers of modern politics. Senator Polk (D) argues there hasn't been enough time to consider it and it should lay over another day until the Attorney General can finish a report on the legalities of the President's actions. Senator Preston King (R-NY, he had founded the Free Soil Party after leaving the Northern Democratic Party) introduced a sunset clause on the increased army size and the Republican Conference chair, Senator John Hale (R-NH) through his weight behind it in deference to winning opposition support for the overall bill (then a detour by the Senators when viewers in the gallery burst into applause at an impassioned speech by King and the Senators decided the Sergeant at Arms needed to post the rules for silence at the door). Senator Anthony Kennedy (one of the few remaining Know Nothings) took time out of debate to talk about the violence in his native Baltimore during the spring, and Maryland's unique place in the Union.

Senator Edward Baker (R-OR, and a member of the Military Committee), on leave from his 1st California Regiment, used the debate as an opportunity to launch into a stem-winder about providing the President with more than everything he asked for ("he has asked for four hundred thousand men. We propose to give him half a million...") while also planning for a future peace. "The determined, aggregated power of the whole people of this country--all its treasure, all its blood, all its arms, all its enthusiasm, kindled, concentrated, poured out, in one mass of living valor upon any foe--will conquer."

King's Amendment was adopted, after serious modification from Finance Chair William Fessenden (R-ME), when Polk reappeared with a long series of objections to the President's acts (interrupted by an unsuccessful motion to adjourn from a tired Senator Lazarus Powell, D-KY, and then several other mundane items of Senate business which irritated Polk considerably). Finally, Polk won out and Senator Wilson asked that the resolution be held over until the next day, when the Senator could continue his speech.

Business deferred by one obstinate Senator, the Senate instead moved to a militia bill providing for calling up the number of three-year volunteers the President wanted. It would eventually pass that day, 34-4. But the next day Senator Wilson would receive unanimous consent to call it back to make further changes.

The joint resolution to approve the President's acts would have to wait. Polk came back on July 11 and, as promised, continued his speech, but once again did not finish and the Senate set it aside for another day. It was a pattern that would continue throughout the entire First Session, until the Senate adjourned without concluding business on the resolution.

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