Legislature Continued–The Solons at Work

Mark Twain

Sacramento Daily Union/June 21, 1866

The first business that was transacted to-day was the introduction of a bill to prohibit the intermarrying of old persons with young ones, because of the non-fruitfulness of such unions. The measure was discussed, laughed over, and finally tabled. I will remark here that I noticed that there seemed to be no regular order of business observed. Motions, resolutions, notices, introduction and third reading of bills, etc., were jumbled together. This may be convenient enough for the members, but it must necessarily be troublesome to the clerks and reporters.

Then a special Committee reported back favorably a bill to prohibit Chinamen from removing their male children from the islands, and the report was adopted—which I thought was rather hard on the Chinamen.

War

Next “the gentleman from Kohala” offered a resolution requesting the Minister of the Interior to bring his books into the House and separate the “Bishop of England’s” printing account from his omnibus of “sundries,” and show just how my Lord’s account with the Government printing office stood. [Sensation.]

A member jumped up and moved to amend by requesting a general inquisition into printing affairs, and to strike out the offensive clause particularizing the Bishop’s bill.

The Minister of the Interior (an Englishman—Dr. Hutchinson) opposed the motion, angrily—said it “showed the animus of the thing the way it stood.” He said he was ready to produce the books, and went at once and brought them in.

Another member moved to table the original motion.

Harris, Minister of Finance, wanted the motion to stand unamended; he said it showed the animus of the thing, too; said it was the old insinuation, emanating from outside the walls of this House—that the Minister of the Interior was diverting the public funds to the support of the Anglican church; the ancient insinuation that he was recreant to his duty, etc.; said the animus was prominent enough in the language of the resolution, which denied to the Lord Bishop of Honolulu the title which all the world recognized as his, and called him the “Bishop of England;” said the Bishop always paid his bills; he (Harris) always paid his bills, and gave money frequently to the Anglican church; was a member of it—would like to know of a single solitary instance where the Congregationalist member from Kohala had ever contributed one dollar, one shilling, one infinitesimal fraction of a farthing to the support of the Reformed Catholic Church of the Lord Bishop; but a King’s Minister couldn’t be honest, oh no! and a Minister couldn’t be a gentleman—certainly not! impossible!—oh, utterly!

And so forth and so on, wandering further and further from the question before the House, and quacking about stuff that had no more to do with the subject under discussion than the Decalogue has got to do with the Declaration of Independence. This man was on his feet every five minutes for an hour. One timid Commoner feebly moved the previous question once, with a vague hope of shutting up the Minister, but he never got a second, and was snubbed in a moment, and “went in his hole,” as they say in California.

The original motion was finally tabled, but it made a fearful stir among the Ministers during its brief existence. It created a bitter discussion, and showed how malignant are the jealousies that rankle in the breasts of the rival religious denominations here.

The Vice President said he was sorry the motion had been offered; that it was an insult to the Government, to the Bishop of Honolulu, to the House, and to all parties concerned, and it grieved him to have to put it to a vote.

In the debate, his Excellency Minister Harris was the champion of the Reformed Catholic Church (though, to save my soul, I could not see what any Church had to do—that is, openly and aboveboard—with the question before the House). He was the champion; and without any ill feeling toward him I will yet express the conviction that about two more such champions would bring ruin and destruction upon any cause under the sun.

Minister Harris

Is six feet high, bony and rather slender, middle-aged; has long, ungainly arms; stands so straight that he leans back a little; has small side whiskers; from my distance his eyes seemed blue, and his teeth looked too regular and too white for an honest man; he has a long head the wrong way—that is, up and down; and a bogus Roman nose and a great, long, cadaverous undertaker’s countenance, displayed upon which his ghastly attempts at humorous expressions were as shocking as a facetious leer on the face of a corpse. He is a native of New Hampshire, but is unworthy of the name of American. I think, from his manner and language to-day, that he belongs, body and soul, and boots, to the King of the Sandwich Islands and the “Lord Bishop of Honolulu.” He has no command of language—or ideas. His oratory is all show and pretense; he makes considerable noise and a great to do, and impresses his profoundest incoherencies with an oppressive solemnity and ponderous windmill gesticulations with his flails. He raises his hand aloft and looks piercingly at the interpreter and launches out into a sort of prodigious declamation, thunders upward higher and higher toward his climax—words, words, awful four-syllable words, given with a convincing emphasis that almost inspires them with meaning, and just as you take a sustaining breath and “stand by” for the crash, his poor little rocket fizzes faintly in the zenith and goes out ignominiously. The sensation one experiences is the same a miner feels when he puts in a blast which he thinks will send the whole top of a mountain to the moon, and after running a quarter of a mile in ten seconds to get out of the way, is disgusted to hear it make a trifling, dull report, discharge a pipe-full of smoke, and barely jolt half a bushel of dirt. After one of these incomprehensible ravings, Mr. Harris bends down and smiles a horrid smile of self-complacency in the face of the Minister of the Interior—bends to the other side and continues it in the face of the Minister of Foreign Affairs; beams it serenely upon the admiring lobby, and finally confers the remnants of it upon the unhappy interpreter—all of which pantomime says as plainly as words could say it: “Eh?—but wasn’t it an awful shot?” Harris says the weakest and most insipid things, and then tries by the expression of his countenance to swindle you into the conviction that they are the mostblighting sarcasms. And in seven years I have never lost my cheerfulness and wanted to lay me down in some secluded spot and die, and be at rest, until I heard him try to be funny to-day. If I had had a double-barreled shotgun I would have blown him into a million fragments. Harris deals in long paragraphs of personalities, that would not be permitted in any other Legislature. This man has the reputation of being an “able” man; yet he was talking pretty much all the time to-day, and all the good sound sense or point there was in his vaporings could have been boiled down into half a page of foolscap. Harris is not a man of first-class abilities—but that is only my opinion, you know—not Harris’. He knows some things, though. He knows that his salary of $4,000 is little enough, in all conscience (especially as he gets nothing as Acting Attorney General, and is not allowed to engage in outside business), and he knew enough on one occasion to vote against reducing his pay to $3,000 when his single vote was necessary to kill the proposed economy. He is an inveterate official barnacle, and is generally well supplied with offices—some people say the Hawaiian Government is a wheel barrow, and that Harris is the wheel.

The Legislature voted an appropriation yesterday to have the photographs of its members taken and hung up in the Capitol. If they had known I was going to paint Harris, they might have saved about three dollars. Harris, you won’t do.

If I had time now I would write you a little something about Harris. Under the circumstances, though, I feel it my duty to pass on to some thingelse.

Minister Hutchinson

Next to His Excellency Mr. Harris, His Majesty’s Minister of Finance, sits His Excellency Mr. Hutchinson, His Majesty’s Minister of the Interior—an Englishman. He has sandy hair, sandy mustache, sandy complexion—is altogether one of the sandiest men I ever saw, so to speak: is a tall, stoop shouldered, middle-aged lowering-browed, intense-eyed, irascible man and looks like he might have his little prejudices and partialities. He has got one good point, however—he don’t talk.

The Other Ministers

Near Dr. Hutchinson sit His Excellency the Governor of Oahu (born in this country of Italian and American parentage, and considered an American) and His Excellency M. De Varigny, Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs—a Frenchman. These are merely sensible, unpretentious men—nothing particularly remarkable about their manner or appearance. If Varigny were as hopelessly bad as his English pronunciation, nothing but a special intervention of Providence could save him from perdition hereafter.

The Millenium at Hand

I have found at least one startling peculiarity about this Hawaiian Legislature. They do not accuse its members of being stained with bribery and corruption. It is a new and pleasant sensation to me. Some people ascribe this singular purity to innate virtue, while others less charitable say the members are not offered bribes because they are such leaky vessels that they would be sure to let it out. Doubtless, in some cases one theory is correct, and the other correct in other cases. I hope it is somehow that way; at any rate, I haven’t time to discuss it.

Legislative Etiquette

Legislative etiquette is of a low grade everywhere, I believe. I find no exception to the rule here. All hands smoke during the session, from the highest down to the pock-marked messenger. Cow county members—or perhaps I should say taro-patch members—lay the sides of their faces on the desks, encircle them with their arms and go to sleep for a few moments at a time. I know they must put their feet on the desks sometimes, but I could not catch them at it. I saw them eating crackers and cheese, though, and freely excused them for it, because they hold long, fatiguing sessions—from 11 till 4 o’clock, without intermission. I am grieved to say that their etiquette is a shade superior to that of the early Washoe Legislature. “Horse Williams” was a member of one of them, and he used to always prop his vast feet upon his desk and get behind them and eat a raw turnip during prayer by the Chaplain.

More Characteristics

So much for the Legislature. I came away and left them at the favorite occupation of such bodies—crowding the finance officer’s estimates to the utmost limit. The last thing they did was to provide a Clerk for the Sheriff of Maui, with a salary of $1,000, which was well enough, considering that for $2,000 a year and some trifling perquisites, that officer acts as Sheriff of the Island of Maui, Postmaster of Lahaina, Custom-house officer, Tax Collector of the Island of Lanai, and probably does a little in a general way in the missionary line, though he is better at entertaining a temporary guest, as I am aware; but you know the inevitable result—every Sheriff of every little dab of rock in this group will have to have a thousand-dollar clerk now.

Mr. Brown Disappointed

Brown has been keeping a sharp lookout for the King for nearly three months, now. When we came out of the Capitol we heard his Majesty had been at the door a few minutes before. Said the impetuous child of nature:

“Blame that King, ain’t I ever—”

“Peace, son!” said I; “respect the sacred name of royalty.”

A Correction

Speaking of the King reminds me of something which ought to be said and might as well be said in this paragraph. Some people in California have an idea that the King of the Sandwich Islands is a man who spends his time idling about the town of Honolulu with individuals of questionable respectability, and drinking habitually and to excess. This impression is wrong. Before he ascended the throne he was “faster” than was well for him or for his good name, but, like the hero of Agincourt, he renounced his bad habits and discarded his Falstaffs when he became King, and since that time has conducted himself as becomes his high position. He attends closely to his business, makes no display, does not go about much, and in manners and habits is a thorough gentleman. He only appears in the streets when his affairs require it, and then he goes well mounted or in his carriage, and decently and properly attended.

And while upon this subject I will remark that His Majesty’s income is amply sufficient for the modest state he indulges in. The Legislature appropriates $16,000 a year to his use, and his estates (called the “Royal Domain”), yield him $20,000 a year besides. The present palace is to be pulled down and a new one erected. The Legislature has just made an appropriation of $40,000 to begin the work and carry it on for the next two years. There was nothing said about what it is ultimately to cost—wherefore I surmise that it is the design of the Government to build a palace well worthy of the name.

(Source: Project Gutenberg Australia: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks09/0900821h.html#TOC3_467)

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