Business Of The Highest Magnitude


Fortified by this new evidence of regularity, the Speaker again sent the sergeant at arms to find the missing members and request their attendance, this time accompanied by the assistant clerk carrying the resolution of Congress. They returned to report that they had seen a dozen of the members in various places and had delivered the message and shown them the resolution. Mr. Findley had “mended his pace” and escaped; others had declared they would not attend; one said he would consider the matter and do what he thought just.


In the meantime word had spread around the city that the Democrats had “absconded” from their duties at the Assembly. A crowd of men gathered, and as time passed they grew impatient. They marched off in search of any two absent members, and the path led straight to Major Boyd’s boarding house. There they found two Democrats: James McCalmont of Franklin County and Jacob Miley of Dauphin. Both men had been militia officers in the Revolution. McCalmont, fifty, a major, had a distinguished record as a frontier scout and Indian fighter; he had been famous for his speed in running and his ability to reload a musket or rifle while in full flight or pursuit.

Several of the crowd entered and read the congressional resolution aloud. McCalmont and Miley refused to budge. When that information was conveyed to those waiting outside, they shouted imprecations, smashed windows with stones, broke down the front door, and stormed into the house. McCalmont and Miley were collared, dragged from the premises, and pushed and pulled through the streets to the State House. General Mifflin, hearing a commotion outside and suspecting the reason, discreetly absented himself for a while from the chamber. The two men, their clothes dirtied and torn, their faces white with anger, were thrust onto the floor of the House and escorted to their seats. The clerk wrote in his minutes, in what must be considered something of an understatement, “The Speaker left the chair, and in a few minutes Mr. James McCalmont and Mr. Jacob Miley entered the House. The Speaker resumed the chair, and the roll was called.” Both men answered to their names or were declared present by others. With forty-six members on the floor the Speaker declared a quorum.

McCalmont rose to protest that he had been brought into the Assembly room by force, contrary to his wishes, by a number of citizens he did not know. He asked to be dismissed from the House.

Fitzsimons replied that he would be glad to know if any member of the House had been guilty of forcing the gentleman from his determination to absent himself. If so, the House should mark such conduct with its disapprobation, he said.

Brackenridge added: “If the member has been conducted by the citizens of Philadelphia to his seat in the legislature, and they have not treated him with the respect and veneration he deserves, it must lie with him to obtain satisfaction, but not with us. How he came here can form no part of our enquiry. Whether his friends brought him (and I should think they could not be his enemies who would compel him to do his duty and avoid wrong), I say, Sir, whether his friends brought him, or by the influence of good advice persuaded him to come, and he did come; or whether to ease his difficulty in walking to this room they brought him in a sedan chair, or by whatever ways or means he introduced himself among us, all we are to know is that he is here, and it only remains for us to decide whether he shall have leave of absence.”

McCalmont: “I desire that the rules may be read, and I will agree to stand by the decision of the House.”

The rules were read, and they were found to state that “every member who did not answer on calling the roll should pay two shillings and six pence, or, if there was not a quorum without him, five shillings.”

McCalmont rose, took some loose silver from his pocket, held it out, and said, “Well, Sir, here is your five shillings to let me go.”

The crowd gathered behind the railing roared with laughter. The Speaker declared that the person appointed to receive fines was not in his place, and that even if he had been, the member should not pay a fine. McCalmont had not broken the rule, the Speaker said. He had appeared and answered to his name and therefore could keep his money.

Mr. Robinson of Philadelphia County, though a Federalist, had some uneasy qualms of conscience. He opined that the House had no authority to detain the member as though he were in prison. Mr. Wynkoop expressed his amazement at this solicitude for a member who had absconded “from his duty at the bar of the House.” Mr. McCalmont declared that he had to answer for his conduct at a more important bar than that of the House.