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Mark Twain > The Gilded Age > Chapter XLV

The Gilded Age

Chapter XLV

The galleries of the House were packed, on the momentous day, not because
the reporting of an important bill back by a committee was a thing to be
excited about, if the bill were going to take the ordinary course
afterward; it would be like getting excited over the empaneling of a
coroner's jury in a murder case, instead of saving up one's emotions for
the grander occasion of the hanging of the accused, two years later,
after all the tedious forms of law had been gone through with.

But suppose you understand that this coroner's jury is going to turn out
to be a vigilance committee in disguise, who will hear testimony for an
hour and then hang the murderer on the spot? That puts a different
aspect upon the matter. Now it was whispered that the legitimate forms
of procedure usual in the House, and which keep a bill hanging along for
days and even weeks, before it is finally passed upon, were going to be
overruled, in this case, and short work made of the, measure; and so,
what was beginning as a mere inquest might, torn out to be something very

In the course of the day's business the Order of "Reports of Committees"
was finally reached and when the weary crowds heard that glad
announcement issue from the Speaker's lips they ceased to fret at the
dragging delay, and plucked up spirit. The Chairman of the Committee on
Benevolent Appropriations rose and made his report, and just then a blue-
uniformed brass-mounted little page put a note into his hand.

It was from Senator Dilworthy, who had appeared upon the floor of the
House for a moment and flitted away again:

     "Everybody expects a grand assault in force; no doubt you believe,
     as I certainly do, that it is the thing to do; we are strong, and
     everything is hot for the contest. Trollop's espousal of our cause
     has immensely helped us and we grow in power constantly. Ten of the
     opposition were called away from town about noon,(but--so it is
     said--only for one day). Six others are sick, but expect to be
     about again tomorrow or next day, a friend tells me. A bold
     onslaught is worth trying. Go for a suspension of the rules! You
     will find we can swing a two-thirds vote--I am perfectly satisfied
     of it. The Lord's truth will prevail.

Mr. Buckstone had reported the bills from his committee, one by one,
leaving the bill to the last. When the House had voted upon the
acceptance or rejection of the report upon all but it, and the question
now being upon its disposal--Mr. Buckstone begged that the House would
give its attention to a few remarks which he desired to make. His
committee had instructed him to report the bill favorably; he wished to
explain the nature of the measure, and thus justify the committee's
action; the hostility roused by the press would then disappear, and the
bill would shine forth in its true and noble character. He said that its
provisions were simple. It incorporated the Knobs Industrial University,
locating it in East Tennessee, declaring it open to all persons without
distinction of sex, color or religion, and committing its management to a
board of perpetual trustees, with power to fill vacancies in their own
number. It provided for the erection of certain buildings for the
University, dormitories, lecture-halls, museums, libraries, laboratories,
work-shops, furnaces, and mills. It provided also for the purchase of
sixty-five thousand acres of land, (fully described) for the purposes of
the University, in the Knobs of East Tennessee. And it appropriated
[blank] dollars for the purchase of the Land, which should be the
property of the national trustees in trust for the uses named.

Every effort had been made to secure the refusal of the whole amount of
the property of the Hawkins heirs in the Knobs, some seventy-five
thousand acres Mr. Buckstone said. But Mr. Washington Hawkins (one of
the heirs) objected. He was, indeed, very reluctant to sell any part of
the land at any price; and indeed--this reluctance was justifiable when
one considers how constantly and how greatly the property is rising in

What the South needed, continued Mr. Buckstone, was skilled labor.
Without that it would be unable to develop its mines, build its roads,
work to advantage and without great waste its fruitful land, establish
manufactures or enter upon a prosperous industrial career. Its laborers
were almost altogether unskilled. Change them into intelligent, trained
workmen, and you increased at once the capital, the resources of the
entire south, which would enter upon a prosperity hitherto unknown.
In five years the increase in local wealth would not only reimburse the
government for the outlay in this appropriation, but pour untold wealth
into the treasury.

This was the material view, and the least important in the honorable
gentleman's opinion. [Here he referred to some notes furnished him by
Senator Dilworthy, and then continued.] God had given us the care of
these colored millions. What account should we render to Him of our
stewardship? We had made them free. Should we leave them ignorant?
We had cast them upon their own resources. Should we leave them without
tools? We could not tell what the intentions of Providence are in regard
to these peculiar people, but our duty was plain. The Knobs Industrial
University would be a vast school of modern science and practice, worthy
of a great nation. It would combine the advantages of Zurich, Freiburg,
Creuzot and the Sheffield Scientific. Providence had apparently reserved
and set apart the Knobs of East Tennessee for this purpose. What else
were they for? Was it not wonderful that for more than thirty years,
over a generation, the choicest portion of them had remained in one
family, untouched, as if, separated for some great use!

It might be asked why the government should buy this land, when it had
millions of yes, more than the railroad companies desired, which, it
might devote to this purpose? He answered, that the government had no
such tract of land as this. It had nothing comparable to it for the
purposes of the University: This was to be a school of mining, of
engineering, of the working of metals, of chemistry, zoology, botany,
manufactures, agriculture, in short of all the complicated industries
that make a state great. There was no place for the location of such a
school like the Knobs of East Tennessee. The hills abounded in metals of
all sorts, iron in all its combinations, copper, bismuth, gold and silver
in small quantities, platinum he--believed, tin, aluminium; it was
covered with forests and strange plants; in the woods were found the
coon, the opossum, the fox, the deer and many other animals who roamed in
the domain of natural history; coal existed in enormous quantity and no
doubt oil; it was such a place for the practice of agricultural
experiments that any student who had been successful there would have an
easy task in any other portion of the country.

No place offered equal facilities for experiments in mining, metallurgy,
engineering. He expected to live to see the day, when the youth of the
south would resort to its mines, its workshops, its labratories, its
furnaces and factories for practical instruction in all the great
industrial pursuits.

A noisy and rather ill-natured debate followed, now, and lasted hour
after hour. The friends of the bill were instructed by the leaders to
make no efort to check it; it was deemed better strategy to tire out the
opposition; it was decided to vote down every proposition to adjourn, and
so continue the sitting into the night; opponents might desert, then, one
by one and weaken their party, for they had no personal stake in the

Sunset came, and still the fight went on; the gas was lit, the crowd in
the galleries began to thin, but the contest continued; the crowd
returned, by and by, with hunger and thirst appeased, and aggravated the
hungry and thirsty House by looking contented and comfortable; but still
the wrangle lost nothing of its bitterness. Recesses were moved
plaintively by the opposition, and invariably voted down by the
University army.

At midnight the House presented a spectacle calculated to interest a
stranger. The great galleries were still thronged--though only with men,
now; the bright colors that had made them look like hanging gardens were
gone, with the ladies. The reporters' gallery, was merely occupied by
one or two watchful sentinels of the quill-driving guild; the main body
cared nothing for a debate that had dwindled to a mere vaporing of dull
speakers and now and then a brief quarrel over a point of order; but
there was an unusually large attendance of journalists in the reporters'
waiting-room, chatting, smoking, and keeping on the 'qui vive' for the
general irruption of the Congressional volcano that must come when the
time was ripe for it. Senator Dilworthy and Philip were in the
Diplomatic Gallery; Washington sat in the public gallery, and Col.
Sellers was, not far away. The Colonel had been flying about the
corridors and button-holing Congressmen all the evening, and believed
that he had accomplished a world of valuable service; but fatigue was
telling upon him, now, and he was quiet and speechless--for once. Below,
a few Senators lounged upon the sofas set apart for visitors, and talked
with idle Congressmen. A dreary member was speaking; the presiding
officer was nodding; here and there little knots of members stood in the
aisles, whispering together; all about the House others sat in all the
various attitudes that express weariness; some, tilted back, had one or
more legs disposed upon their desks; some sharpened pencils indolently;
some scribbled aimlessly; some yawned and stretched; a great many lay
upon their breasts upon the desks, sound asleep and gently snoring.
The flooding gaslight from the fancifully wrought roof poured down upon
the tranquil scene. Hardly a sound disturbed the stillness, save the
monotonous eloquence of the gentleman who occupied the floor. Now and
then a warrior of the opposition broke down under the pressure, gave it
up, and went home.

Mr. Buckstone began to think it might be safe, now, to "proceed to
business." He consulted with Trollop and one or two others. Senator
Dilworthy descended to the floor of the House and they went to meet him.
After a brief comparison of notes, the Congressmen sought their seats and
sent pages about the House with messages to friends. These latter
instantly roused up, yawned, and began to look alert. The moment the
floor was unoccupied, Mr. Buckstone rose, with an injured look, and said
it was evident that the opponents of the bill were merely talking against
time, hoping in this unbecoming way to tire out the friends of the
measure and so defeat it. Such conduct might be respectable enough in a
village debating society, but it was trivial among statesmen, it was out
of place in so august an assemblage as the House of Representatives of
the United States. The friends of the bill had been not only willing
that its opponents should express their opinions, but had strongly
desired it. They courted the fullest and freest discussion; but it
seemed to him that this fairness was but illy appreciated, since
gentlemen were capable of taking advantage of it for selfish and unworthy
ends. This trifling had gone far enough. He called for the question.

The instant Mr. Buckstone sat down, the storm burst forth. A dozen
gentlemen sprang to their feet.

"Mr. Speaker!"

"Mr. Speaker!"

"Mr. Speaker!"

"Order! Order! Order! Question! Question!"

The sharp blows of the Speaker's gavel rose above the din.

The "previous question," that hated gag, was moved and carried. All
debate came to a sudden end, of course. Triumph No. 1.

Then the vote was taken on the adoption of the report and it carried by a
surprising majority.

Mr. Buckstone got the floor again and moved that the rules be suspended
and the bill read a first time.

Mr. Trollop--"Second the motion!"

The Speaker--"It is moved and--"

Clamor of Voices. "Move we adjourn! Second the motion! Adjourn!
Adjourn! Order! Order!"

The Speaker, (after using his gavel vigorously)--"It is moved and
seconded that the House do now adjourn. All those in favor--"

Voices--"Division! Division! Ayes and nays! Ayes and nays!"

It was decided to vote upon the adjournment by ayes and nays. This was
in earnest. The excitement was furious. The galleries were in commotion
in an instant, the reporters swarmed to their places. Idling members of
the House flocked to their seats, nervous gentlemen sprang to their feet,
pages flew hither and thither, life and animation were visible
everywhere, all the long ranks of faces in the building were kindled.

"This thing decides it!" thought Mr. Buckstone; "but let the fight

The voting began, and every sound. ceased but the calling if the names
and the "Aye!" "No!" "No!" "Aye!" of the responses. There was not a
movement in the House; the people seemed to hold their breath.

The voting ceased, and then there was an interval of dead silence while
the clerk made up his count. There was a two-thirds vote on the
University side--and two over.

The Speaker--"The rules are suspended, the motion is carried--first
reading of the bill!"

By one impulse the galleries broke forth into stormy applause, and even
some of the members of the House were not wholly able to restrain their
feelings. The Speaker's gavel came to the rescue and his clear voice

"Order, gentlemen--! The House will come to order! If spectators offend
again, the Sergeant-at-arms will clear the galleries!"

Then he cast his eyes aloft and gazed at some object attentively for a
moment. All eyes followed the direction of the Speaker's, and then there
was a general titter. The Speaker said:

"Let the Sergeant-at Arms inform the gentleman that his conduct is an
infringement of the dignity of the House--and one which is not warranted
by the state of the weather." Poor Sellers was the culprit. He sat in
the front seat of the gallery, with his arms and his tired body
overflowing the balustrade--sound asleep, dead to all excitements, all
disturbances. The fluctuations of the Washington weather had influenced
his dreams, perhaps, for during the recent tempest of applause he had
hoisted his gingham umbrella, and calmly gone on with his slumbers.
Washington Hawkins had seen the act, but was not near enough at hand to
save his friend, and no one who was near enough desired to spoil the
effect. But a neighbor stirred up the Colonel, now that the House had
its eye upon him, and the great speculator furled his tent like the Arab.
He said:

"Bless my soul, I'm so absent-minded when I, get to thinking! I never
wear an umbrella in the house--did anybody 'notice it'? What-asleep?
Indeed? And did you wake me sir? Thank you--thank you very much indeed.
It might have fallen out of my hands and been injured. Admirable
article, sir--present from a friend in Hong Kong; one doesn't come across
silk like that in this country--it's the real--Young Hyson, I'm told."

By this time the incident was forgotten, for the House was at war again.
Victory was almost in sight, now, and the friends of the bill threw
themselves into their work with enthusiasm. They soon moved and carried
its second reading, and after a strong, sharp fight, carried a motion to
go into Committee of the whole. The Speaker left his place, of course,
and a chairman was appointed.

Now the contest raged hotter than ever--for the authority that compels
order when the House sits as a House, is greatly diminished when it sits
as Committee. The main fight came upon the filling of the blanks with
the sum to be appropriated for the purchase of the land, of course.

Buckstone--"Mr. Chairman, I move you, sir, that the words 'three millions
of' be inserted."

Mr. Hadley--"Mr. Chairman, I move that the words two and a half dollars
be inserted."

Mr. Clawson--"Mr. Chairman, I move the insertion of the words five and
twenty cents, as representing the true value of this barren and isolated
tract of desolation."

The question, according to rule, was taken upon the smallest sum first.
It was lost.

Then upon the nest smallest sum. Lost, also.

And then upon the three millions. After a vigorous battle that lasted a
considerable time, this motion was carried.

Then, clause by clause the bill was read, discussed, and amended in
trifling particulars, and now the Committee rose and reported.

The moment the House had resumed its functions and received the report,
Mr. Buckstone moved and carried the third reading of the bill.

The same bitter war over the sum to be paid was fought over again, and
now that the ayes and nays could be called and placed on record, every
man was compelled to vote by name on the three millions, and indeed on
every paragraph of the bill from the enacting clause straight through.
But as before, the friends of the measure stood firm and voted in a solid
body every time, and so did its enemies.

The supreme moment was come, now, but so sure was the result that not
even a voice was raised to interpose an adjournment. The enemy were
totally demoralized. The bill was put upon its final passage almost
without dissent, and the calling of the ayes and nays began. When it was
ended the triumph was complete--the two-thirds vote held good, and a veto
was impossible, as far as the House was concerned!

Mr. Buckstone resolved that now that the nail was driven home, he would
clinch it on the other side and make it stay forever. He moved a
reconsideration of the vote by which the bill had passed. The motion was
lost, of course, and the great Industrial University act was an
accomplished fact as far as it was in the power of the House of
Representatives to make it so.

There was no need to move an adjournment. The instant the last motion
was decided, the enemies of the University rose and flocked out of the
Hall, talking angrily, and its friends flocked after them jubilant and
congratulatory. The galleries disgorged their burden, and presently the
house was silent and deserted.

When Col. Sellers and Washington stepped out of the building they were
surprised to find that the daylight was old and the sun well up. Said
the Colonel:

"Give me your hand, my boy! You're all right at last! You're a
millionaire! At least you're going to be. The thing is dead sure.
Don't you bother about the Senate. Leave me and Dilworthy to take care
of that. Run along home, now, and tell Laura. Lord, it's magnificent
news--perfectly magnificent! Run, now. I'll telegraph my wife. She
must come here and help me build a house. Everything's all right now!"

Washington was so dazed by his good fortune and so bewildered by the
gaudy pageant of dreams that was already trailing its long ranks through
his brain, that he wandered he knew not where, and so loitered by the way
that when at last he reached home he woke to a sudden annoyance in the
fact that his news must be old to Laura, now, for of course Senator
Dilworthy must have already been home and told her an hour before. He
knocked at her door, but there was no answer.

"That is like the Duchess," said he. "Always cool; a body can't excite
her-can't keep her excited, anyway. Now she has gone off to sleep again,
as comfortably as if she were used to picking up a million dollars every
day or two"

Then he vent to bed. But he could not sleep; so he got up and wrote a
long, rapturous letter to Louise, and another to his mother. And he
closed both to much the same effect:

     "Laura will be queen of America, now, and she will be applauded, and
     honored and petted by the whole nation. Her name will be in every
     one's mouth more than ever, and how they will court her and quote
     her bright speeches. And mine, too, I suppose; though they do that
     more already, than they really seem to deserve. Oh, the world is so
     bright, now, and so cheery; the clouds are all gone, our long
     struggle is ended, our, troubles are all over. Nothing can ever
     make us unhappy any more. You dear faithful ones will have the
     reward of your patient waiting now. How father's Wisdom is proven
     at last! And how I repent me, that there have been times when I
     lost faith and said, the blessing he stored up for us a tedious
     generation ago was but a long-drawn curse, a blight upon us all.
     But everything is well, now--we are done with poverty, sad toil,
     weariness and heart-break; all the world is filled with sunshine."

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