At some point in history . . . the House of Representatives lost a 93-year-old Chaplain. Despite prominent mentions in the Congressional Record, newspapers from across the country, and in texts such as Chaplains of the Federal Government (1856), the Reverend Daniel Waldo vanished from the official list of House Chaplains sometime during the last 150 years. But in July 2012 the Office of the Historian discovered Waldo’s election in the Record. And moreover, the mysterious case of a missing House officer sheds additional light on the House’s most chaotic period leading up to the Civil War.
The House in the 34th Congress (1855–1857)—fractured by sectional differences over slavery—opened with a bruising, two-month-long Speaker election. The election of the Chaplain in February 1856 set up to be nearly as contentious; what’s more, some in the House then favored eliminating the post altogether. With this opposition in place, the Reverend Daniel Waldo proved a perfect compromise.
The elderly clergyman was not the typical patronage candidate, but one whom Members of various factions could respect because of his service in the Revolutionary War. At the age of 16, Waldo joined the Connecticut militia in 1778. He served nearly a year before the British captured him and imprisoned him in New York City, where he endured abysmal conditions. After recovering from his incarceration, Waldo studied at Yale College, became a Congregationalist minister, and preached throughout New England for nearly 75 years. In nominating Waldo as House Chaplain, Representative Amos Granger of New York attempted to soothe his colleagues’ flared tempers, reminding them that the Waldo was “without spot or blemish,” and “he is attentive to his duty, and well gifted in his profession.”
The House eventually elected Waldo after two rounds of balloting on February 13, 1856, much to the relief of many observers. “We do not know a body in the world which needs fervent effectual prayer more than the House of Representatives,” the Boston-based Daily Atlas newspaper reported, gravely predicting more tumultuous years for the divided House. The reporter found hope in Waldo, adding, “We hope his public exercises will diffuse through his congregation something of the spirit which animated the earlier history of the country.” When the second session of the 34th Congress commenced in December 1856, the House re-elected Waldo in a single round of voting. As Chaplain, Waldo gave opening prayers when the House convened, and led services for the citizens of Washington; however, the compromise clergyman was unable to defuse the sectional spirit among Members of the House. Following Waldo’s departure to his home in New York in 1857, the House did not elect another Chaplain until 1861, well after the Civil War was underway.
Although it is unclear how Waldo was forgotten in subsequent years, his rediscovery allows historians to paint a fuller picture of the fractious nature of the House of Representatives before the Civil War.
Sources: Congressional Record, House, 34th Cong., 1st sess. (13–21 February 1856); The National Preacher, September 1864, Vol. XXXVIII; Daily Atlas (Boston, MA), February 22, 1856.