Skip Navigation


US Senate Debate
on Acceptance of
Waitman Willey and John Carlile
as senators from Virginia

Senators Carlile and Willey

Debate in the U. S. Senate on the Presentation of their Credentials by Senator Johnson, of Tenn. - The Traitors Vote Against their Admission - Their Triumphant Success.

Mr. Johnson, of Tennessee, said it afforded him great pleasure to present the certificate of the newly elected Senators from the State of Virginia, to fill vacancies now existing. He asked that the certificate might be read and the members sworn in.

Mr. Bayard said the question of acknowledging these gentlemen under the certificate presented by them, involved great questions of vital constitutional importance, and that should they be allowed to be sworn in at the present time, it would be a direct violation of the constitution. He asked that the matter be referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, before the gentlemen are sworn in.

Mr. Saulsbury said he would call the attention of the Senate to the single fact that the gentlemen presented themselves on the strength of credentials issued to them by the Governor of a portion of the State of Virginia; that those credentials bore upon the face of them the fact that the election took place on the 9th of July, whereas at the same time there existed no vacancy in the Senate from the State of Virginia. The credentials state that the gentlemen were appointed owing to the withdrawal of Messrs. Hunter and Mason, but this House had yesterday decided that there was no vacancy, but that Messrs. Hunter and Mason held the seats, and the Senate, in accordance with the power vested in it by the Constitution, had expelled these members. If they were not Senators at that time, how was it possible to expel them! Yesterday, said Mr. Saulsbury, you treated them as Senators. The Senate is the judge of its own members - how then can you allow a Governor to declare a vacancy in the United States Senate? And how can you declare that the seats were vacant on the 9th of July when only yesterday you expelled them?

Mr. Johnson, of Tennessee, said there was prima facie evidence of an election; the certificates were regularly certified by the Governor; that there was no proof of any irregularity of election; the election was effected according to the laws of Virginia, and was subject both to the Constitution of the State and that of the United States. There is no contest for the seats - no evidence that the Senators are not regularly elected; but, on the contrary, there is proof now before the Senate that they were legally elected.

Ms. Saulsbury replied by reiterating his argument, and said that he hoped the Senate would act in accordance with the Constitution and preserve their consistency.

Mr. Trumbull presumed that the Senator from Delaware, (Mr. Saulsbury,) was elected before his predecessor had vacated the seat. That, in fact, it was true of most of the Senators on the floor, and especially so in the case of the Senators from Minnesota, who were elected even before the State was declared a part of the Union. Le me, said Mr. Trumbull, suppose a case. If, during the war with Mexico, a Senator from the State of Delaware had taken up arms against the United States, would not another Senator have been elected to fill the vacancy? And yet the case of Messrs. Hunter and Mason is infinitely more aggravated than that which I have supposed. They have incited the South to rebellion, and taken up arms against their country. I see, he said, no necessity for referring the case of the gentlemen from Virginia to any committee.

Mr. Bayard said that the remarks referring to the State of Delaware were not at all likely. That Delaware would do nothing except by law. That in this case they would require judicial evidence. That it was never known in the history of the country that the Governor of any State appointed a Senator for a broken term.

Mr. Hale said that it made no difference whether the gentlemen were elected today, or whether they were elected three days ago, the vacancy existed, and they bore the credentials that entitled them to seats. Were these gentlemen to be sent home to be elected over again? He, at least, hoped not. This is not a day for compromises, neither is it a day for forms. This is the time for action. Now was the day, the hour, the experiment. We are here to endeavor to crush out the rebellion which rages broadcast over the land. We have long submitted to indignities, but that time is past; and the present is the triumph of the constitution, of the Republican party. We had heretofore readily compromised all questions, but now and hereafter I am only for the constitution, that shall be my sole compromise. I am for collecting all the money and all the men at the North, and thus stake the issue. We will attack them with our entire energy, and if we are beaten we can but submit. He (Mr. Hale) said that some of his remarks were not pertinent to the question, but to return; the Union loving men of Virginia yet recognized the United States government, and asked to be represented on this floor, and they are, said he, entitled to such representation.

Mr. Latham said he considered the doctrine of secession one of the most damnable heresies that had ever been instituted. The government of Virginia that sent these Senators here has the same constitution and the same laws that the State always had; that there was a vacancy, and that the gentlemen from Virginia bore certificates that entitled them to seats and he hoped they would be allowed to take them.

Mr. Johnson of Tennessee, said he would answer the Senator from Delaware (Mr. Saulsbury) a question by asking one. Did he not yesterday admit that the seats were vacant?

Mr. Saulsbury replied that he had admitted that the Senate had a right to consider the seats as vacant. The Senate had passed on the question, and declared that the seats were not vacant. I agree with the Senator from California (Mr. Latham) that secession is a vile heresy. But whatever action is to be taken let it be lawful.

A message here arrived from the House of Representatives, announcing that the House had passed the bill regulating the duties on imports, &ampc., with the amendments; also the bill for the enrollment of volunteers, and presenting an enrolled bill for the signatures of Senators.

Mr. Trumbull said that on the 26th of April, 1790, the Governor of Virginia declared that inasmuch as John Mason was elected Senator and refused to serve, that he appointed John Walker, and the Legislature justified the action of the Governor.

_______________filled the seat, and his refusing to serve did not create a vacancy which had previous existence.

Mr. Trumbull replied that the appointment could only have been made while a vacancy existed. Another case in point, he stated, was that of Mr. Pinckney, of Maryland, in 1791, who resigned, when the Governor appointed Mr. Mercer. Mr. Giles objected to the constitutionality of the action, but the House of Representatives sustained the Governor in the premises he had taken, and agreed that the appointee, Mr. Mercer, was entitled to the seat.

Mr. Saulsbury said the arguments of the Senator from Illinois were well fitted to form a portion of a stump speech in a contest for popular favor, but would not possess any strength when addressed to cool and clear-headed men; that this was not a theatre, nor were speeches to be made to the gallery or the people, but it was the American Senate, where we are sent to make laws.

Mr. Collamer took up the argument on the new Senators from Virginia, and occupied the precise grounds covered by Senators Johnson and Trumbull.

Mr. Powell said he had no doubt but that the members from Virginia would be allowed to take their seats. That he well understood the view of the majority on the other side, but he felt it to be his duty to enter his protest. He said it was a fact judicially known that the members of the Legislature who had sent the new members from the State of Virginia, represented perhaps not one fourth of the citizens of Virginia. That there were about one hundred and fifty counties in Virginia, yet but thirty or forty were represented in the Western Virginia Legislature.

If these gentlemen are allowed to take their seats it will be a virtual overthrow of the constitution; there is but little of it now left, but let us endeavor to preserve that little. Nothing I can say, I am convinced, will alter the decision which the majority of the Senators I know will give in the case, but I deem it my duty to the constitution, the country, and myself, that I protest against the gentlemen taking their seats. The committee on the judiciary should thoroughly investigate the question. I call the ayes and nays on the question.

Mr. Bayard said the Senate was constitutionally the judge of its own members. That the Legislature of a State, after their election, could not take from that body, neither could it supercede them before the term had expired for which they were elected. J. M. Mason and R.. M. T. Hunter were yesterday acknowledged Senators on this floor, and you expelled them. The Senate had no right to regard them as members the first day after the sitting of the present Congress, yet it had chosen to do so. He was willing that their seats should have been declared vacant, but the gentlemen on the other side were not. They absolutely recognized them (the seats) as being filled, and expelled the occupants. Yet Governor Peirpoint declares that Messrs. Willey and Carlile were elected to those seats on the 9th of July; three days before they were vacant. The question is, can you acknowledge the certificates presented on facts judicially known to you? Every Senator knows that John Letcher was legally elected Governor of Virginia, and his time has not yet expired. The State of Virginia is a belligerent, and you promote rebellion - aye, acknowledge it - if you admit on this floor her representatives. You say they were elected under the constitution and ordinances of the State.

You, therefore, knowing that State to be in rebellion, encourage the insurrection. The laws of the State are those under which Gov. Letcher was elected; he is yet their Chief Magistrate, and if these gentlemen are admitted, you are trampling on the Constitution, violating her laws - you are abusing the supreme doctrine of civil law, and the doctrine of State rights.

I love the Union, and have contended for it as much as any Senator on this floor. I may differ with some as to secession and revolution, but I say a peace cannot be conquered. We had better let the dissenting States sever their connection with us peaceably and forever, than, if it were possible, to be united under a military despotism. I am fully aware that the Senators on the other side are resolved to swear the gentlemen from Virginia as members of this Senate, and aught I may say cannot prevail against it; but I would be false to my people, my country and my conscience did I not enter my protest against such proceedings.

(Cries of "question,)

Mr. Ten Eyck said he wanted to say a word - but a word. He said he would not stand a minute to keep Virginia from being reinstated, and was glad that the gentleman from Kentucky (Mr. Powell) had called for the yeas and nays on the question now before the Senate. He wanted his vote to be a living record before the country. I, said Mr. Ten Eyck, believe it will be in support of the Constitution and the Union, and hope my vote may live through future ages - aye, I wish it may be recorded in letters of brass or iron. The Senator from Kentucky, who appears to be a great champion of the Constitution, said in his speech the other day that all the acts of the President since March 4th were infractions on the Constitution.

The honorable Senator seemed to dwell, said Mr. Ten Eyck, with peculiar force on the unconstitutional and illegal acts of the President. Has he forgotten the transaction that caused a hundred thousand gallant men to flock to the National Capital, on the wings of the whirlwind, in reply to the call of the President? How is it that Kentucky did not respond to that call? Why were not the gallant descendants of Jackson and Clay, courageous and unerring riflemen of Kentucky, found flocking to the national standard, to the defense of the Capital? The honorable Senator yields no answer. Yes, sir, she is another abettor in this heresy which now convulses America, and astounds Christendom.

Mr. Powell - I will answer the question which the Senator from New Jersey has been pleased to ask. I will at once correct the misapprehension which exists on his part. I declared it is true, that of the acts of the President to which I alluded there was but one constitutional. I spoke, though, of the specific acts enumerated in resolution No. 1; and it was the act of the President calling into the field 75,000 men; and I stated that under the act of 1795 the President was justified in calling those men out for the defence of the national capital, and stated, also, that if they were not used for this purpose, but were intended to invade sovereign States, the act was cruel, unnecessary and unconstitutional.

Now, Mr. President, the honorable gentleman asks why Kentucky did not obey___________the Senator and to the country the views of that State. Kentucky did not believe that the call for the immense body of men was ever made for the purpose of protecting the capital; but was for the particular purpose of making war upon her sister States, and no influence could prevail upon her - she had no desire whatever - to imbrue her hands in the blood of her brethren, either North or South. She believed that the war was unholy and unjust, and could only result in eternal disruption. She hoped that the Union might be rebuilt, not by force, but by just and equitable compromise. She desired peace, and yet desires it; but I see no measure, nor the likelihood of the proposal of any measure which will bring about a peace. It is this which has caused Kentucky to take the neutral stand which she has, and which she will maintain to the last.

This is the first time in the history of this country in which my State has failed to furnish her volunteers. She has, heretofore, always rushed to the combat, and endeavored to secure a place in the front ranks - in the war of 1812, as well as the war with Mexico. Her men have hitherto flocked to the national standard with such avidity and in such numbers, she has offered twenty times the number that would be accepted of her. But now she stands neutral, and can only be forced to shed the blood of either section; and I sincerely hope she may be able to maintain that neutrality. There has been presented to her no other course which she could pursue to bring about the great end of accomplishing a peaceful settlement. She now occupies a position alike distasteful to the men of the North and the radicals of the South, and I hope she may be able to maintain it.

[Cries of "question, question."]

Mr. Ten Eyck - I have but a simple word to say in explanation. If I misunderstood the Senator from Kentucky, it was because of the remoteness of my position. The honorable Senator says that the present war is one only of subjugation; that the troops were not brought here for the protection of the capital. I tell the Senator that they are here in obedience to the call of authority to rescue the loyal men of the South - the Union-loving men of Virginia, North Carolin, Tennessee - aye, and the loyal men of Kentucky.

Mr. Doolittle said the subject had been now fully discussed; that we were here to transact business; that deeds more than words were wanted.

The question being put on the motion of Mr. Bayard to refer the question to the committee on the judiciary, and the yeas and nays being called, the Senate refused to refer the matter by the following vote:

Yeas - Messrs. Bayard, Bright, Polk, Powell and Saulsbury - 5.

Nays - Messrs. Anthony, Bingham, Browning, Chandler, Clark, Collamer, Cowan, Dixon, Doolittle, Fessenden, Foot, Foster, Grimes, Hale, Harlan, Harris, Howe, Johnson of Tenn., King, Lane of Ind., Lane of Kansas, Latham, McDougall, Morrill, Pomeroy, Rice, Sherman, Simmons, Sumner, Ten Eyck, Trumbull, Wade, Wilkinson, Wilmot and Wilson - 35.

Absent - Messrs. Baker, Breckinridge, Johnson of Mo., Kennedy, Nesmith, Pearce and Thompson.

Messrs. Willey and Carlile were accordingly sworn in as members of the Senate.


Chapter Eight: Legislature of the Reorganized Government of Virginia

A State of Convenience

West Virginia Archives and History