Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Charles Fairbanks

I'm on a VP kick. So Charles Fairbanks was VP for Theodore Roosevelt. It seems the Fairbanks' opinion of the VP was about the same as that of TR as this quote begins his bio:
My name must not be considered for Vice President and if it is presented, I wish it withdrawn. Please withdraw it.

Fairbanks actually wanted to be President, but that would not be realized he took the undesirable VP slot, where TR did not live up to his earlier promise of a more active VP!
In an 1896 article for Review of Reviews, Roosevelt, while New York City police commissioner, had argued that the vice president should participate actively in a presidential administration, including attendance at cabinet meetings and consultation on all major decisions. He even posited that the vice president should be given a regular vote in the Senate. Now that he was president, however, Roosevelt displayed no intention of follo wing his own advice. He did not invite Fairbanks to participate in the cabinet and consulted the vice president about nothing of substance. Roosevelt certainly showed no inclination to support granting Fairbanks a vote in the Senate and, given Fairbanks' conservative tendencies, would probably have opposed any attempt to do so. Discussing the office abstractly turned out to be quite different from dealing with a flesh-and-blood occupant.

So did Fairbanks manage to do anything as VP?
The most famous instance of Fairbanks' effectiveness as presiding officer came in May 1908 during debate over the conference report on the Aldrich-Vreeland Emergency Currency Act. This legislation authorized the issuance of emergency currency based on state bonds, municipal bonds, and railroad bonds. The inclusion of bonds from railroad companies enraged many midwestern and southern progressives, who saw it as an example of the railroads' control of Congress. As Senator Robert C. Byrd observed in discussing this incident in a 1989 address to the Senate, "Filibusters are inherently much more difficult to wage successfully on conference reports than on bills, because conference reports are not amendable."28 Nevertheless, Republican Senator Robert La Follette of Wisconsin, leading the small but determined opposition to the legislation, decided to filibuster. By holding the floor, La Follette and Democratic Senators Thomas Gore of Oklahoma and William Stone of Missouri hoped to force the leadership to drop railroad bonds from the measure. La Follette began speaking at 12:20 p.m. on Friday, May 29. Either Gore or Stone was to take the floor when he finished and, by speaking in rotation, they could stifle Senate business indefinitely.

A filibuster in the early twentieth century could be particularly unpleasant. In the summer, an extremely hot Senate chamber customarily drove senators to the cloakrooms for relief. During a filibuster, however, if too many members left the chamber, the speaker, or an ally, could suggest the absence of a quorum without losing control of the floor. This procedure required the vice president to direct that the roll be called, and, if a quorum (forty-seven members at that time) were not present, the Senate would adjourn until a quorum could be obtained, further contributing to the filibuster's objective of delay. In any event, the quorum call allowed the speaker a few moments to seek water or food and some fresh air. When Robert La Follette took the floor on May 29, 1908, he brought a clerk with him to keep track of the number of senators present. Since the day turned out to be especially warm, senators had no desire to linger in the sweltering chamber. Whenever the count of members in the chamber fell below the required number, La Follette would stop his speech to suggest the absence of a quorum, forcing his colleagues to file back into the chamber to answer the roll. This cycle continued for hours. When Vice President Fairbanks ordered La Follette's clerk, who had been keeping count for his boss, to leave the chamber, other members friendly to the Wisconsin senator's cause took up the counting. Finally, at about 11:45 that night, after thirty-two quorum calls, Fairbanks, under the guidance of party leader Aldrich, managed to limit the tactic by making a resourceful parliamentary ruling that some business other than debate must take place between quorum calls. Not until 2:25 a.m. on Saturday, May 30, did La Follette finally establish the absence of a quorum, at which point the Senate adjourned until the sergeant at arms roused enough senators from bed to begin debate once more, at 3:40 a.m., allowing La Follette a short nap. La Follette continued until 7:00 a.m. William Stone followed, holding the floor until 1:30 p.m., and then yielded to Senator Gore. Gore was to speak until 4:30 p.m., when Stone would return. At the appointed time, Gore, who was blind, heard that Stone had returned, but when Gore yielded the floor, Stone, either by mistake or through chicanery, had stepped outside the chamber for a moment. Vice President Fairbanks, alert to his opportunity, immediately recognized Nelson Aldrich, who moved that the vote be taken on his bill. Fairbanks, ignoring other speakers shouting for recognition, directed the clerk to call the yeas and nays, and Aldrich, first on the roll, answered in the affirmative. Under Senate rules, once a vote began, it could not be stopped for further debate. After more than twenty-eight hours, the filibuster was broken.

1 comment:

Greg Bevier said...

Fairbanks is one of the few Vice President's graves I have visited. Never bothered to read much about him so I enjoyed this post.