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Historical Highlights

The Constitution in the Congressional Record

December 14, 1882
The Constitution in the <em>Congressional Record </em> Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this Object
A Democrat from New York, Roswell P. Flower served two terms in the House before serving as Governor of New York.
On this date, Roswell P. Flower of New York, in a seemingly unprecedented request, inserted into the Congressional Record a complete, amended copy of the U.S. Constitution (Congressional Record, House, 47th Cong. 2nd sess. (14 December 1882): 302–306). Flower sat quietly as the House debated H.R. 7049, a Post Office appropriations bill for the upcoming fiscal year. After his colleagues finished discussing contingent provisions in the $43,948,520 bill, an inspired Flower spoke against the legislation for ten minutes. Concerned that the bill included unnecessary expenses, Flower reminded the chamber of a constitutional amendment (H. Res. 267) proposing to give the President line-item veto power which he had introduced five months earlier. Though his bill had sat unreported in the Judiciary Committee since the summer, Flower still hoped to strengthen the legislative checks and balances set forth in the U.S. Constitution. During his floor remarks he chastised the appropriations process and touted his reverence for the Constitution, reminding those in attendance that “A copy of it was given [to] me when a youth. Its tattered remnants are in my pocket now.” To conclude, Flower asked to append the Constitution to his remarks, “a document,” he said “which can not be too widely disseminated.” But despite his impassioned appeal, nearly everyone in the chamber ignored what Flower said. As the New York Tribune described the scene a few years later, “all around him in the House the buzz of conversation went on; members went in and out of the cloak-rooms . . . and doubtless at this very moment Leopold Morse was walking up and down in front of the Speaker’s desk, chewing an unlighted cigar, and appearing to the admiring galleries every inch a statesman.” The confused few who listened to the New York Representative questioned the germaneness of his remarks. George Robeson of New Jersey asked if Flower “[offered] his proposition as an amendment to the present bill?” “It is a good time to do it now,” Flower replied ambivalently, “or perhaps it might be more apropos” for a later bill. Still baffled, the House disregarded Flower’s suggestion and debated whether to adjourn for the day. The press evaluated Flower’s actions with mixed opinions. An article later reprinted in the Indianapolis Star described his speech as one full of “cheap dramatics,” and another newspaper charged him with wasting public money. But the Tribune called it “a great act,” Flower having “gently bestowed the Constitution of the United States within the pages of ‘The Congressional Record.’”

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