Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Utah political humor: the Constitutional Convention's greatest hits

For anyone who likes political humor, you can't beat Utah's own state constitutional framers. Thanks to Ric Cantrell, who pointed us to the online 1895 Constitutional Convention proceedings, I spent some time this evening enjoying clever and passionate dialogue about pressing issues of the day. Tonight, I want to share some of the funniest bits.

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First, they addressed procedural issues, such as beginning each session with roll call and prayer:

Mr. VARIAN. Don't you mean “prayer and roll call?” Transpose that.

Mr. WHITNEY. No; I think the roll call should be first, because until the roll call, we do not know whether there is a quorum present.

Mr. VARIAN. The minority needs the prayer as much as the quorum.

Mr. CANNON. I would suggest that the prayer usually comes first.

Mr. WHITNEY. My impression is, the roll call should come first.

Mr. EVANS (Weber). Suppose we should have divine exercises and after that the roll were called and there was found not to be a quorum present, the question would be, would the prayer avail anything? [Laughter.]

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More shenanigans ensued as they discussed the proposed state militia, defined as male citizens aged 18-45:

Mr. MACKINTOSH. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike out the word “male” in the section. [Laughter.]

Mr. CHIDESTER. Mr. Chairman, I would like to ask the gentleman a question, who makes that motion? I want to ask if you belong to the militia?

Mr. MACKINTOSH. Now? Oh, no. I am exempt by the color of my hair.

Mr. CHIDESTER. I am going to say that if he did, for the purpose of improving the militia, I would support his motion. [Laughter.]

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While most participants favored giving women the right to vote, Brigham H. Roberts was a staunch and persistent opponent. In truth, most of his humor appeared to be inadvertent, but this one was intentional:

Mr. ROBERTS. . . . I hold to the doctrine that each man who is married, in the exercise of his privilege of suffrage, is the representative in that act, not only of himself, but of the little group with which he is connected. He acts for his family, and gentlemen must not be carried away with the idea that they act independently of the influence of the wife in that case either. It may suit the fancy of man, it may be accorded by the shrewdness of woman to let him think that that is the case, but as a matter of fact, it is not the case. I think before I get through I shall be able to show you that women already have an influence in politics, and though indirect, it is none the less real, and that when a man who is married casts his vote, it is the expression of the mentality of the group with whom he is connected. The hobo and the bachelor may each for himself cast his ballot with no other consideration than how it affects him; but, gentlemen, the man who is a head of the family does not do it and he cannot do it, because there stands by his side a counsellor and he cannot escape hearing her. [Laughter.]

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So was this witty rebuttal to Roberts' lengthy oratory against suffrage:

Mr. WHITNEY. . . . While he was speaking my mind scanned the pages of history in quest of some hero with whom to compare him. I thought of Horatius at the Roman bridge, standing single-handed and alone, beating back the Tuscan legions advancing to attack the Eternal City; and I fain would have compared my friend to that hero of antiquity. But I could not; because Horatius was fighting for freedom, and in my opinion my eloquent but mistaken friend was fighting against it. [Applause].

I went back farther into the past. I thought of Leonidas and his three hundred Spartans, defending the pass of Thermopylae against the overwhelming hordes of Persians, sweeping down like an avalanche upon his native land. I wanted to compare him to that hero_one of the noblest in history_but again I was met by the reflection that Leonidas fought and fell in a battle for liberty, and I was convinced that my friend from Davis County was taking part in no such engagement. [Applause.]

Then I remembered a little anecdote, one that is doubtless trite and common-place to you all. A bull was feeding in a pasture through which a railway track extended, along which an express train was advancing at lightning speed. The bull got upon the track and tried to prevent the train from passing. He did not seem to know what was coming, and “preferring his free thought to a throne” [laughter], planted himself squarely in the way of the invincible power that came rushing and roaring on. The bull, I say, did not seem to know what was coming, but the farmer, his owner, did [laughter], and with a gasp of astonishment, mingled with admiration he exclaimed: “Well I admire your courage, but d--n your judgment.” [Laughter and applause.]

But I did not like to compare my friend to a dumb animal; he had given convincing proof that he was not dumb; and though there was once an animal that spake [laughter], the property of one Balaam [renewed laughter], it spake by inspiration from on high, so that I could not compare it to the gentleman from Davis County. [Laughter and applause.]

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And this one was just funny:

Mr. GOODWIN. May I ask the gentleman a question? If your amendment passes, suppose an emergency should arise in the Territory that the farmers throughout the Territory would need fifty thousand dollars to buy seed, wheat, and food, to carry them over until another harvest, how could they get the money if your amendment passes?

Mr. HALLIDAY. Get it out of the Tithing Office. [Laughter.]