Erasing History in the Missouri House

The daily journals kept by the Missouri House and the Missouri Senate are bare-bones records of their proceedings.  Eloquence and folly voiced during floor debate have no place in them.  This is not, after all, Congress, where the daily Congressional Record captures every word, even words never spoken (Members are allowed to “revise and expand” their remarks).

Reading the Missouri legislature’s journals reveals some things, though.  The journals tell us that the order of procedure used today are pretty much the very same order of procedure used in our earliest legislative sessions.  There is an official structure to the making of laws that is honored every day.  Titles of bills and texts of amendments give us some indication of the thinking of the participants and thus an indication of the standards of Missouri society through time.  Resolutions, too, reflect often contemporary issues, events, and causes.   Only in recent years have debates been archived by, among others, the Secretary of State.

Today, however, we are going to tell you about a House Journal that does not reflect what happened that day because the House deliberately erased the record.   It was an extraordinary event.  We cannot say it was unprecedented because it will take someone with weeks or months of time we do not have to learn if it was.

We go back to Sunday night, January 25, 1903, when the young firebrand temperance-promoting preacher at the Christian Church about four blocks down East Main Street (Capital Avenue today) charged city officials and the people of Jefferson City had allowed Jefferson City to have a lower moral standard than any other small city in Missouri. Crayton S. Brooks charged the arrival of legislators that month had not helped.  His sermon caused great unrest in the capital city and a week of give-and-take in the local press kept the issue hot.  Legislators watched events with interest.

Now let’s look at the House Journal:

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TWENTIETH DAY—Tuesday, February 3, 1903. House met pursuant to adjournment. Speaker Whitecotton in the chair. Prayer by the Chaplain. Journal of yesterday read and approved. Mr. Kirkham offered the following joint resolution, which was read and adopted: JOINT RESOLUTION. Whereas. Hon. Dorsey W. Shackietord, Congressman from the Eighth Missouri district, has introduced into the National House 0f Representatives a bill to create a national park at the famous Ha-Ha-Tonka region, in Camden county, Missouri; and Whereas, Lake Ha-Ha-Tonka, and the Niangua river, adjacent thereto, with the surrounding natural scenery and phenomena, have been pronounced by scientists and naturalists the most interesting and beautiful spot on earth; now, therefore, be it Resolved, That it is the sense of this House, the Senate concurring therein, that the same should be preserved to the people for all time as a national park, and to that end, we urgently request our Senators and Representatives in the National Congress to co-operate with Congressman Shackleford in his efforts to secure the passage of said bill; and be it further Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions, duly authenticated, be forwarded to each or our Senators and Representatives at Washington.

Mr. Dolan presented a communication from the “Brotherhood of Daily Life,” condemning the passage of any legislation discriminating between the races; Which was read and referred to Committee on Railroads and Internal Improvements. Mr. Dolan presented a petition from the citizens of Jackson county to prohibit the sale of cigarettes to minors; Which was read and referred to Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence.

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But that’s not what happened at all when the House came into session that day.

The legislature in those days designated an official newspaper that would publish and bind the official journals at the end of the session.  It wasn’t that difficult at the end because the paper also published the daily journals and all the editors had to do at the end of the session was take all of that type that had been saved and print the bound volumes.

The House Journal for Tuesday February 3 had been published by the Jefferson City State Tribune on January 4 before the House approved the journal for the official record. THIS is what the journal said in the newspaper:

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TWENTIETH DAY—Tuesday, Feb. 2, 1903  (the newspaper had the date wrong)

House met pursuant to adjournment, Speaker Whitecotton in the chair.

Prayer by ________,

On motion of Mr. OFFICER, further reading of the House Journal was dispensed with.

MR COLDEN introduced the following resolution concerning the removal of the state capitol:

“Whereas, the pulpit and the press, the two recognized regulators of public morals and the public conscience, condemn Jefferson City, the seat of government of the state of Missouri, as a place where gambling, vice and immorality flourish without protest from the citizens or the officers of the law; and

“Whereas the seat of government was located at its present site in the days of stage coach and steamboat, and is without adequate railway facilities, and is unreasonably inaccessible to a majority of the people of the state, and is further unable to furnish ample accommodations for a capital city; and

“Whereas, the state of Missouri is practically out of debt and will soon be compelled to erect a new capitol commensurate to the needs of the state; therefore be it

“Resolved, That the Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Permanent Seat of Government be and is hereby instructed to prepare a joint and concurrent resolution, providing for the removal of the capitol to some point at or near one of the great railway centers of the state, to be determined by a commission to be appointed by the Governor, and to be submitted to the qualified voters at the next general election of the state of Missouri.”

Mr. TICHACEK offered an amendment naming St. Louis as the place to be selected as the railway center named in the resolution.

Mr. GARDNER offered an amendment to the resolution as follows:

“That said commissioners specially consider the practicability of using the buildings to be constructed by Missouri on the World’s Fair site for capitol purposes.”

Mr. WILLIAMS offered an amendment, providing for one million dollars to be raised by the city of St. Louis.

Resolution, with all amendments, was adopted.

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The reaction from Jefferson City was immediate, strong, and pointed.  The State Tribune immediately editorialized, “After all Jefferson City is not such a bad place to live in….Jefferson City has the best streets and sidewalks, the best telephone system, the best railway station; one of the best county court houses in the state. Its waterworks and sewerage are unsurpassed.”

The competing Cole County Democrat the next day dismissed Colden’s effort as a “Scare-Crow Resolution,” saying it was “gotten up to scare the people of Jefferson City” and was not taken seriously by any of the representatives who voted for it.

The State Tribune argued that St. Louis was hardly the place to move the capitol if the lawmakers’ aim was to go somewhere lacking in “intemperance, gambling and licentiousness…cheap theatres or other places of seductive character” to lure them from the paths of rectitude.

Representative Colden was beating a fast retreat by Thursday.  “Just a joke,” he proclaimed.  “I am surprised by the seriousness of the people of Jefferson City on the capital removal proposition,” he said.  In fact, he fully supported Reverend Brooks.   So did Lieutenant Governor John A. Lee, the President of the state senate, who said he would not favor moving the seat of government away.

Then on Monday afternoon, February 9, Colden brought his resolution back to the House, noting city officials had taken action, that the charges made against the city had been hurtful, and that his resolution had accomplished its purpose. He moved that his resolution be expunged from the journal.  Another representative moved that the resolution and all of the amendments be expunged.  The House voted 55-16 to do that.

The Journal for that day contains no reference to that discussion or to that vote.

And that is why the original journal for February 3, 1903 indicates Representative Colden never offered a resolution. Nobody offered any amendments to a resolution, and no resolution on removing the seat of state government to St. Louis ever passed.  And since the official journal for February 3 says no such thing ever occurred, the Journal for February 9 contains no record of the House expunging something that never happened—but did.

We know these things happened because the newspaper published them.  And only because the newspaper published them.

We never saw anything like this happen in all our years of covering the legislature.  We hope it is never repeated.  Thanks to a newspaper, the historical record is clear even if the official record is not. That’s why we have a free press with which you can agree or disagree.  But as long as we have media that is free to record events that become history, we will know.  And in knowing we will remain free.

Let me know what you think......