Art & History

Weekly Historical Highlights (December 14 through 20)

December 18, 1820

The Old Hall of the House (now Statuary Hall) was the site of 15 funerals for Members while it was the House’s meeting place from 1819 to 1857.
On this date, the first known funeral in the House Chamber occurred. Representative Nathaniel Hazard of Rhode Island died the day before in Washington, D.C. On the morning of the 18th, Representative Samuel Eddy of Rhode Island announced the death to the full House. The House approved a number of resolutions relating to funeral attendance by Members and appointed a committee of seven to tend to the funeral arrangements. The House agreed to observe a 30-day period of mourning where Members would wear black crepe arm bands. A message was transmitted to the Senate informing the other chamber of Hazard’s death. The Senate followed the practice of the House, donning the black arm bands and adjourning to attend the funeral. Only three days later, on December 21, 1820, Congressman Jesse Slocumb of North Carolina passed away. There were four chamber funerals during the 16th Congress (1819–1821). In total there have been 31 funerals in the Old Hall of the House (now Statuary Hall) and the current chamber. During the early 19th century, most Members were buried in the Congressional Cemetery, located blocks from the Capitol. The practice of holding funerals in the chamber ended in 1940 following the death of Speaker of the House William Bankhead of Alabama.

December 19, 1947

A newspaper owner and former Lt. Governor, Representative Clarence Brown of Ohio served more than 26 years in the House.
On this date, the 80th Congress (1947–1949) finished its second extraordinary session. President Harry S. Truman asked Congress to consider emergency funding for Austria, France, and Italy for the winter due to their fragile political and economic conditions. He also asked Congress to authorize measures for controlling inflation through a 10-point plan. Although Congress approved funding for the European nations, it could not reach a consensus about containing inflation. The House rejected much of Truman’s plan for mandatory inflationary controls, and instead passed a substitute bill (S. J. Res 167) that contained several provisions similar to Truman’s proposals. The legislation provided for voluntary agreements from industries to reduce prices, extended the government’s power to control exports and allocate transportation resources, and authorized the promotion of food conservation and international agricultural production. During debate some Representatives argued that inflationary controls amounted to excessive government intrusion into the economy. Clare Hoffman of Michigan commented, “The President asks for rationing, for price control, for regimentation. Under disguising words he asks to be made a dictator, while . . . insisting that we weaken ourselves . . . by aiding little dictators abroad, who, we are told, are fighting the schemes and the plots of . . . Stalin.” Others thought that the bill didn’t go far enough to help U.S. citizens. Clarence Brown, an Ohio Republican, however, defended portions of Truman’s plan as a “just and fair measure designed . . . to meet the emergency until further action can be taken,” when Congress formally re-convened for another session in January 1948.

December 20, 1836

In a rare photograph showing House Chaplains, Henry Couden (who served from 1895 to 1921; at left) and Chaplain James Montgomery (1921-1950; at right) stand outside the White House in 1921. Couden was the first and only blind Chaplain of the House of Representatives.
On this date, Oliver Comstock of New York became the first and only former U.S. Representative to be elected Chaplain. Born in Rhode Island, Comstock moved to New York state as an adolescent. He entered politics when he served in the state assembly for two years. Elected to the 13th, 14th, and 15th Congresses (1813–1819), Comstock served on the Committee on Elections and the Committee on Pensions and Revolutionary Claims. An ardent advocate for veterans’ benefits, Comstock said they “have not wasted their time in the pleasures of the ball room, and in the amusements of fashionable circles, remote from fatigue, alarm, and conflicts . . . [t]hey have borne from the plain of battle the laurels of conquest; but have returned, seamed with scars, disfigured by frightful wounds, or deprived of their limbs.” In a number of petitions, Comstock asked the House to “place them above embarrassment, and enable them to support themselves, and those whom Providence may have committed to their care and protection.” Comstock left the House in 1819 to enter the ministry. After receiving his ordination, he served as pastor of a church in Rochester, New York, for nine years. Elected on December 20, 1836, with 103 votes on the third ballot, Comstock served for the remainder of the 24th Congress (1835–1837). Afterward, Comstock moved to Michigan, where he was a regent of the University of Michigan. He also served as state superintendent of public instruction. Comstock died in Marshall, Michigan, on January 11, 1860.

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