Five Socialists Expelled from NY Assembly

Evening Public Ledger/April 1, 1920

Action At Albany Unprecedented In American History

Vote on Three Men Is 116 to 28 and on Other Two, 104 to 40

Decisions Are Reached After 22-Hour Session

Roosevelt Opposes Expulsion, Declaring Charges Were Not Proved

Louis Waldman, August Claessens, Charles Solomon, Samuel A. DeWitt and Samuel Orr, all of New York City, the entire delegation of their party in the New York Assembly, were expelled from the Legislature today.

By its action the Assembly established a precedent unique in legislative history in the United States. Never before has an entire party delegation been ejected from any legislative body.

The majorities in favor of expelling the men, suspended on the opening day of the legislative session on charges of disloyalty, were substantial. Voting began at 9:38 a. m. at the end of twenty-two hours of oratory, parliamentary wrangles and filibustering.

As the men were expelled after midnight on March 31, there can be no special elections to fill their seats in the Assembly unless an extraordinary session of the Legislature is to be convened.

Waldman, the first acted on, was expelled by a vote of 116 to 28. Unseating of the others followed in quick succession, the ballots being: August Claessens, Socialist floor leader, 116 to 28: Charles Solomon, 116 to 28: Samuel A. DeWitt, 104 to 40, and Samuel Orr, 104 to 40. The voting lasted about half a hour.

Some assemblymen who had voted to unseat Waldman, Clasessens and Solomon cast their ballots in favor of reseating DeWitt on the ground that the evidence had not incriminated DeWitt and Orr beyond establishing their adherence to the doctrines and platforms of the Socialist party. Majority Leader Simon L. Adler shared this opinion.

Socialists Highly Amused

For the members of the lower house the session was most trying. The House was operating under a close call, which meant that no one was allowed to leave the outer portals of the chamber without a pass signed by the speaker. Luncheon and supper were brought to the members by the pages and were eaten at the desks.

Waldman and Solomon remained at the Capitol until the voting started. Both appeared to be highly amused at the proceedings and smiled frequently. The other three men under fire were not present.

At the conclusion of the speech of Assemblyman Martin G. McCue, a Democrat from New York, in which the Socialist members were called by such epithets as “traitors,” “curs” and “whipped dogs,” Waldman sent a note to McCue, reading as follows:

“Marty, be a good sport and move that I be given the floor to answer you. Will you do it?”

Assemblyman McCue did not reply. In the early morning hours while the debate was slowly dragging its weary way toward a roll call. Waldman and Solomon appeared in the “midway,” the main corridor between the Assembly and the Senate chambers.

“Five Vacant Chairs”

A little band of newspaper men and senators who had originated a “midway choir,” greeted them with a song families in the sixties, but with the words adapted to modern conditions:

“We shall meet, but we shall miss them. There will be five vacant chairs.”

The suspended assemblymen acknowledged the greeting with smiles and hand clapping.

During early stages of the debate, the deportment of the Assembly at times approached the disorderly. Exchanges of personalities between Assemblymen McCue and Louis A. Cuvillier caused especially tense situations.

Late at night, however, when Mr. McCue in a speech had reached the height of invective against the Socialists, Mr. Cuvillier, marched smilingly down to where the reporters were seated and said:

“Oh, boys! Marty is fanning ’em out now.”

Roosevelt’s Maiden Speech

Other incidents of the twenty-for hour session were the maiden speeches of Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt and Miss Margaret I. Smith, Republicans. Colonel Roosevelt urged the reseating of the Socialists, on the ground that the charges against them were not proved, and Miss Smith advocated their expulsion.

“To expel the Socialist party from our Assembly we must condemn it as a conspiracy,” Roosevelt declared. “If we so expel it, we must, in all logic, set about expelling all Socialists from every office they hold through the length and breadth of this state, and to bring the expulsion to its logical conclusion, as the right to vote in general entails the right to hold office, we must disenfranchise every dues-paying member of the Socialist party.

“We must reseat these men, and then in our pleasure take up and remedy by legislation such things in their party as may need correction.”

Sweet Replies to Roosevelt

The wildest outburst of applause, which veteran legislators declared excelled any in their career, occurred at the conclusion of a speech by Assemblyman McCue, advocating expulsion. Every member jumped from his seat and cheered the New Yorker for two or three minutes when he said:

“We are not going to permit the traitors to write the laws.”

Long after midnight Speaker Sweet, who instituted the ouster proceedings, left the rostrum and spoke from the floor, something that he has done only once before during his long service as the Assembly’s presiding officer. Part of his speech was construed as a reply of Assemblyman Roosevelt.

After quoting from ex President Roosevelt, Speaker Sweet said:

“We are building by our action today a granite bulwark against all traitors within the boundaries of our republic. Our flag of the republic is whipping the breeze in defiance of enemies from without.”

Party Barriers Vanish

Party lines disappeared in the voting. The Democratic minority polled a majority of one vote in favor of expelling Waldman, Claessen and Solomon, the Democratic vote on these men being 18 for unseating and 17 for restoring them to their former legislative status. Twenty-one Democrats voted to reseat DeWitt and Orr, while 14 favored their expulsion.

The Republicans, by a division of 28 to 11 voted to unseat Waldman, Claessens and Solomon, and on the DeWitt-Orr votes they stood 89 to 20.

When the Assembly adjourned after the seats of all five Socialists had been declared vacant, it had been in continuous session twenty-three hours and forty minutes.

There was a brief outburst of applause when the clerk announced the vote on Waldman’s case, followed by another mild demonstration a few seconds later when Speaker Sweet announced:

“The resolution having been duly passed. I declare the seat occupied by Louis Waldman vacant.”

The announcements in the case of the other Socialists were received in silence by members and spectators, until the final declaration by the speaker that Orr’s seat was vacant, when there was a last brief outburst of mild cheering and hand-clapping.

“Sensible people of the state will have no misgivings about the stand of an American legislature,” Attorney General Newton, chief counsel for the judiciary committee, declared after the final vote had been taken. “They have learned that to countenance the activities of radicals is to invite disaster to American government.”

Soldier Vote Interesting

Much interest was manifested in the way former servicemen in the Assembly voted. Twenty-one favored the expulsion of all five Socialists. Seven, including Roosevelt voted to reseat all while four voted to reseat DeWitt and Orr.

Women members of the House were evenly divided. The Republican, Miss Smith, voted to expel the entire delegation, while her Democratic colleague, Miss Elizabeth Van R. Gillette, consistently favored their retention.

The first chapter of the story in the expulsion of the Socialists was written on January 7 last, the day on which the Legislature convened for its regular 1920 season.

Immediately after Speaker Sweet had been re-elected he ordered the five Socialist assemblymen before the bar of the House and told them that a resolution to suspend them from participation in the business of the Assembly pending an investigation of their loyalty was to be introduced.

Hearings were begun January 20 and lasted twenty-one days. Last Monday night, at an executive session of the judiciary committee, seven members of the committee signed the majority report, which recommended the expulsion of all five Socialists. Six committeemen signed dissenting reports.

(Source: Chronicling America, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045211/1920-04-01/ed-1/seq-1/)