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Valley of the Shadow

Franklin Repository: November 16, 1870

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History of the Constitutional Reform Movement
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Summary: The Repository discusses constitutional reform and reprints an article written by A. K. McClure, a leading advocate of the movement.
Full Text of Article:

That it is necessary to say anything concerning the history of this movement before Constitutional Reform has become a fixed fact, may seem unusual to some under whose observation these lines may fall; but to those who have been closely watching all that has been said and written concerning it in the public journals, it will not seem strange or out of place. In all human probability a Constitutional Convention is as sure to come as seed time and harvest, and since it is assured, and so heartily encouraged by the people throughout the whole State, in a word, since it is popular with the masses and they demand it, the number claiming the credit of originating and initiating the movement is as great as the grand army of patriots who first nominated General Grant for the Presidency; and, as a rule, they are just about as much entitled to the honor.

The Constitutional Reform movement began in January, 1867, immediately after the election of Simon Cameron to the United States Senate, and the first article which called attention to the subject appeared in the FRANKLIN REPOSITORY of the 23rd of that month. It came from the hands of Col. A. K. McClure, then the able editor of this journal. In justice to Mr. McClure, as well as for the information of the public, we re-publish the article as it appeared then.

Since the movement began, until now, when it is the engrossing political topic of the State, Col. McClure has not ceased to agitate the subject, and by his great ability as a writer and experience in the political affairs of the State, has done more to insure its success than any other man in the State:



The people can no longer close their eyes to the fact that the hideous cancer of legislative corruption has spread its loathsome pollution over the entire body politic in Pennsylvania; and indifference must henceforth be criminal. For years venality has been trenching itself in the citadel of delegated power, steadily growing and widening its ramifications, until its monstrous sweep has drawn a Legislature into its seething whirlpool, upon the very threshhold of its official labors, and bartered the choicest gift and the most responsible trust the loyal people have to confer.

Nor in this crowning wrong alone do the appliances and fruits of legislative degradation appear. Around it, in it, through all its channels of power, and all its tributaries, the monster sits enthroned supreme. So clamorous were its shameless votaries for plunder, that the important committees of the popular branch, which control vital and profitable interests, had to be divided and sub-divided, and even then the number almost doubled to swell the chances for ill-gotten profits; and the subordinates of the two branches have been increased to glut insatiate appetites until they number within one-fourth of the whole Legislature. Sons, fathers and other relations of legislators crowd around it in idleness, and profligacy and venality rule while people have treachery and taxation as their reward.

"Reform the Legislature by the election of upright men," respond all who, with the affectation of integrity, wish corruption to maintain its sway. We answer it cannot be done. It has been tried, time and again, and it has signally failed. We have seen, and served in, reform Legislatures, and the only perceptible difference was the increased license to debauchery assumed by the reformers because of their supposed standing at home. It is idle to attempt reform by any such process. But few who have the stern integrity for such an effort will undertake the thankless task, and supple reformers, who are demoralized by the very hope of contact with peculation, are ever ready to proclaim their own virtues to the people, and betray them by a double fraud.

There is one simple, practical, effectual remedy; and if the People move in earnest they can enforce it. The reform must be radical - it must be fundamental. A Constitutional Convention, and that only, can reach the terrible disease, and it is attainable at any time the Legislature shall submit the question of a Convention to popular decision. It should be demanded by petition, by delegations, by mass meetings, by the manly utterances of an unshackled Press, until even the corruptionists themselves shall bow to the thunder of their masters. Let them demand a Convention to incorporate in their organic law provisions substantially as follows:

1. That the Senate shall consist of one hundred members, to be chosen by single districts.

2. That the House of Representatives shall consist of four hundred members, each to be elected in a single district.

3. That all legislation relating to corporation interest shall be by general laws, and that no special charter or corporate privileges whatever shall be granted but by the courts.

4. That there shall be no special appropriation of money from the treasury to claims except upon a judicial finding.

5. That the members of the Legislature shall be paid five dollars per day, for the period of sixty days; and be prohibited from appropriating to themselves any additional sum for protracted sessions, or for extra or adjourned sessions beyond sixty days in the year.

6. That no subordinate officers shall be appointed in either branch, or receive any compensation for services, unless a bill shall have been passed by both branches creating the office and defining its duties.

7. That no bill shall pass either branch without receiving a majority of the whole vote on a call of the yeas and nays.

"It would be most expensive reform," answers the quibblers who, unwilling to meet the issue squarely, wish to delay the day of the effectual reckoning of the People. We answer that it would be vastly economical. The whole cost of a Legislature consisting of five hundred members and the necessary officers, under the foregoing provisions, would not be as much as our present Legislature costs with but one hundred and thirty-three members, and there would be the incalculable advantage of the arrest of the profligate appropriation of money for any and every purpose that will pay the lobby; and in addition to the advantages of saving the public treasure, it would secure honest legislators for two reasons:

1. It would place the Legislature beyond the control of the lobbyists because of its numbers, and would arrest the "snaking" through of bills in a slim house and without a record of each man's vote. In a few of the New England States each town (corresponding to our township,) sends a member of the Legislature. Thus the popular branch of the Massachusetts Legislature numbers several hundred, although the State has not half our population, nor a tithe of our commercial, mineral or agricultural interests to foster or care for. In such Legislatures corruption is unknown. The body is too large for the lobby to control, and it does not blot the history of that State as it does in our mighty Commonwealth, still mighty in spite of the vampyres who batten upon her in the name of guardians.

2. It would bring the representative into immediate relations with, and direct responsibility to, his constituents. If Franklin county elected four representatives instead of half of two, each district would be composed of several townships, and the people would have personal knowledge of the man they elect, and he could not err in ascertaining their wishes upon any question. He could not plead, as do faithless men now, that some interests in a remote part of his district demanded his betrayal of other interests, and thus cloak his shame. There would be direct and positive responsibility from each member to his people, and they could not be deceived, nor would they excuse a disregard of their wishes. It would call to our Legislature a different class of men. Intelligent farmers and business men could afford to go, as there would be only general legislation to enact, and the sessions could rarely exceed thirty to forty days, instead of from three to four months, as now, devoted to passing half a score of general laws and a thousand of a private character.

- Unless the People of Pennsylvania adopt this remedy they must continue to be at the mercy of corruptionists. No matter what party is in power, the same disgraceful history is written. It cannot be done by proposing constitutional amendments in the Legislature. That would require two years even if it were possible to effect the reform through that channel. But will the votaries of plunder write their own just history and open their own tombs? They may profess reform, but it will come with all the reservations, most plausibly covered, that the lobby desires. Let the people demand a Convention. The Legislature can authorize a vote in June next, adjourn to meet after the returns are officially received, and provide for chosing delegates to the Convention at the regular election in October next. No matter which of the two great parties should carry the Convention, - substantial reform would come, for no man would venture to run on any ticket in opposition to it. Admonished by the People, as they would be in the overwhelming success of the most earnest Reform members, the end of shameless debauchery in our places of power would be triumphantly attained.

- Will the Press speak? It is the outer sentinel of popular liberty and safety, and cannot be silent but by complicity with crime. Will the People speak? It is their cause; it involves their interests, their honor, their boasted fabric of free government, and they can be indifferent only to become pitiable suicides!

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A Story of Capture and Escape
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Summary: A man arrested for horse stealing in Mercersburg escaped while being taken to jail in Chambersburg. The stranger, who stayed at the Mansion House, aroused suspicion when he arrived in town. He tried to sell a horse because he had no money to pay the bill. He was taken into custody, but managed to drive off the buggy while his captors stopped for a break on the way to Chambersburg. When they caught up to him, he jumped on the horse and detached the buggy. He later leapt from the horse and ran away on foot.
[No Title]
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Summary: The Eastern Synod of the Reformed Church decided to move the Theological Seminary from Mercersburg to Lancaster.
[No Title]
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Summary: The paper reports that the Post Office Departments money order service is very popular. Postmaster Seiders prints the rates: 10 cents for orders not exceeding $20; 15 cents between $20 and $30; 20 cents between $30 and $40; and 25 cents between $40 and $50.
[No Title]
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Summary: The teachers of Franklin County will meet on Monday the 21st. A number of prominent professors will speak.
(Names in announcement: Prof. Kidd, Prof. Raub, Prof. Shumaker, Prof. Houck, Prof. Sheely)
[No Title]
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Summary: The barn of Samuel Omwake was destroyed by fire on November 2nd. It was filled with wheat, oats, corn, and hay. The crop was insured for $1,000 and the building for $300. The livestock was rescued.
(Names in announcement: Samuel Omwake)
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Summary: Thomas S. Grier and Miss Minnie R. Fetter, both of Chambersburg, were married on November 3rd by the Rev. I. N. Hays, assisted by Rev. James F. Kennedy.
(Names in announcement: Thomas S. Grier, Minnie R. Fetter, Rev. I. N. Hays, Rev. James F. Kennedy)
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Summary: Dr. T. C. Robinson of Westmoreland County and Miss Mollie J. Skinner of Chambersburg were married on November 10th by Rev. I. N. Hays, assisted by Rev. R. Gracey Furgeson.
(Names in announcement: Dr. T. C. Robinson, Mollie J. Skinner, Rev. I. N. Hays, Rev. R. Gracey Furgeson)
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Summary: Franklin D. Royer and Miss Jennie Taylor, both of Franklin Furnace, were married on November 10th by the Rev. I. N. Hays.
(Names in announcement: Franklin D. Royer, Jennie Taylor, Rev. I. N. Hays)
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Summary: T. H. Donavon and Miss Mary M. Osterman, both of Chambersburg, were married on November 15th at Christ's Church by the Rev. E. Stenzel.
(Names in announcement: T. H. Donavon, Mary M. Osterman, Rev. E. Stenzel)
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Summary: Emma J. Stahl, daughter of George and Catharine Stahl, died near Scotland of consumption on October 19th.
(Names in announcement: Emma J. Stahl, George Stahl, Catharine Stahl)
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Summary: Martin Sollenberger died near Jackson Hall on November 9th. He was 69 years old.
(Names in announcement: Martin Sollenberger)

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