|"Hold the Biscuits ...."

Dr. Edward C. Papenfuse, Jr.
Maryland State Archivist

at the
Banquet of the Society of Senates Past

March 16, 2000

Senator Lapides, President Smelser, members of Senates Past, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is always a risky business for a historian to attempt to give an after-dinner talk. I remember how I was cautioned about the Society of Colonial Wars' annual Maryland Day affair where they were known to throw Maryland beaten biscuits at speakers they didn't like. Are you familiar with Maryland beaten biscuits?  They are about a quarter the size of a baseball and can be very hard.

When I spoke to this group a number of years ago, I got increasingly nervous as the evening dragged on and they had not gotten to my part of the program. Finally, at about 10 p.m. I rose to speak. I was given a standing ovation. The lights were turned down for my slides and I commenced to give what I thought was a most informative talk that lasted about an hour. With relief, I finished the text without one biscuit being thrown. The lights were turned back on and at least two people staggered to their feet to applaud me. The rest of the two hundred or so were sound asleep.

I learned my lesson.  Tonight I will forgo slides or any fancy new computer graphics and keep my remarks to the forty-five minutes I was allotted---or was that twenty-five?

Over the past several years, when I have had the opportunity, I have been giving talks on "What's in a Name and Why Should We Remember?"

Our project with Senates Past fits well into that theme.   With your contributions to the Endowment Fund, we have been able to put our staff, headed by Emily Squires and Karen Dunaway to work with interns like Chris Parker in an effort to find out as much about you and your predecessors in the Senate as we can.   Emily, Karen, and Chris, who are here as your guests tonight, along with our webmaster, Lynne MacAdam, put together the revised Directory that all dues paying members and Endowment contributors got tonight.  [Emily, Karen, Chris, please stand;  they deserve a round of applause for their good work].  Any one who has not contributed yet can do so at any time. We are grateful for any and all support.

The importance of good biographical information on State Senators was brought home to me just this week.  For some reason, there seems to be considerable interest in how the State goes about naming buildings and we had an inquiry about the process by which Senator James's name came to grace the present Senate office building.  Oddly enough, the logical place to look yielded no results.  The Board of Public Works minutes for that period seem to be in disarray.   Without Louis Goldstein to call on anymore, we found from the Maryland Manuals that it happened sometime before January 1975.   Governor Mandel's memory worked best.  He placed it around the time of the dedication of the building.   Fortunately Bill James, like Senator Clark, took the time to write his own memoirs, the manuscript of which he gave to the Archives.   There we  found a newspaper clipping from the Harford Democrat which reads in part:

"Obviously completely surprised, Senator James of Harford County, after listening to the governor and others speak, stated that the occasion  was the  type of procedure "I have assiduously avoided all my life,"  [and] concluded by stating "you can rest assured when I get back to my room tonight, I will burst into tears."

The question remained, who pulled off the surprise and how was it done?  Without the official board minutes, but armed with a confirming newspaper account,  we turned to Governor Mandel's papers where we found the heart of the conspiracy:  the late Senator Roy Staten.  He, Governor Mandel, and Chief Judge Robert Murphy cooked up the surprise and kept it a secret until the actual dedication on January 9, 1974.

Remembering the people who spent their lives and either made or spent their fortunes in public service is an obligation we ought not to treat lightly.

History is no better nor any worse than the men and women who made it,  yet too often we fail to remember who those people were, and how they helped shape the world that we know.   In many ways, those who have chosen to serve the public suffer the most neglect.  Apart from Presidents, not even the Discovery Channel, Public Broadcasting, and A & E, spend much time with the lives of public servants, preferring a wide range of entertainers, sports figures, and other less savory characters (some of whom occasionally turn out to be politicians)  on whom to focus their biographies.

One of our main objectives at the Maryland State Archives, in terms of the value we add as archivists to the records entrusted to our care,  is to seek out and provide biographical information on those who in one way or another have given all or part of their lives to public service.  In doing so we make our institutions more human and kindle an appreciation for all the work and sacrifice that goes into making Maryland such a great place to live.

Indeed, the Maryland Senate has a proud and distinctive history that we should know better in terms of those who comprised its membership.  It is an institution whose history places it in a class by itself among its peers.  The Maryland Senate  was the model on which the U. S. Senate was based.  It can trace its history back to the very first Charter granted by the Crown of England in which there was a specific provision for an assembly of freemen.

When the Maryland Senate was created in November 1776, it consisted of six senators from the Eastern Shore and nine from the Western Shore. It was chosen through an indirect selection process that would profoundly affect politics at the National level when it was incorporated into the United States Constitution as the method for electing the Senate and the President of the United States.

James Madison, in "Federalist No. 63, used the Maryland Senate as the example of why the proposed Senate of the United States would not prove tyrannical, corrupt, and driven by lawless ambition. Madison wrote that

the constitution of Maryland furnishes the most apposite example.... It is distinguished ... by the remarkable prerogative of filling up its own vacancies within the term of appointment. ... If the federal senate therefore really contained the danger which has been so loudly proclaimed, some symptoms at least of a like danger ought by this time [March, 1788] to have been betrayed by the senate of Maryland; but no such symptoms have appeared. On the contrary the jealousies first entertained by men of the same description with those who view with terror the correspondent part of the federal constitution, have been gradually extinguished by the progress of the experiment; and the Maryland constitution is daily deriving from the salutary operations of [its Senate], a reputation in which it will probably not be rivalled by that of any other state in the Union. Madison perhaps exaggerated to make his point. The Maryland Senate frequently found itself under attack for being too cautious and for resisting the will of the people. In 1786, for example, taxes were higher per capita than they had ever been in Maryland, and higher than they would ever be again until recently. Senator Charles Carroll of Carrollton observed in 1777, the year in which the first Maryland Senate convened, that the cost of the American Revolution would produce a staggering tax burden. According to Carroll, under British rule taxation was 'very moderate.' Carroll suggested that people would make unfavorable comparisons. "The bulk of mankind only judge by their feelings and cannot see into the remote consequences" of low taxes. They were sure to resent paying "what they can even bear."

By 1786, the Maryland House and Senate were deadlocked over how the State's share of the war debt would be paid. The House, led by Samuel Chase, saw an easing of debt collection and the printing of paper money as a means of avoiding higher taxes and permitting collection of those already in effect. The Senate balked at such radical tinkering with the economy, especially in light of past experience with a rampant inflation only recently contained. In the midst of the struggle, both Houses did manage to agree on the adoption of the Mount Vernon Compact of 1785. The Compact of 1785 between Virginia and Maryland was a giant step forward in interstate cooperation (even though I believe it did not, as some Virginians alleged recently, give up Maryland's right to the water of the Potomac River), but when the House of Delegates proposed that Maryland send representatives to a commercial convention of all the states scheduled to meet in Annapolis on September 4, 1786, the Maryland Senate refused. In words more prophetic than it realized, the Senate carefully outlined its reasons to the House for leaving Maryland unrepresented at the Annapolis Convention:

We cannot accede to the proposal ... for commissioners to meet commissioners from the other states in the union, [to consider] a uniform system of commercial regulations. The meeting proposed appears to us liable to some weighty objections, which have induced us to decline going into the appointment. ... We are ... averse to any measure which may possibly tend to procrastinate or counteract the collection of the revenue indispensably necessary towards enabling congress to pay the interest of the national debt. Besides, the meeting proposed may be misunderstood or misrepresented in Europe, give umbrage to Congress, and disquiet the citizens of the United States who may be thereby led erroneously to suspect, that the great council of this country wants either the will or wisdom to digest a proper uniform plan for the regulation of their commerce. ... The meeting of the commissioners ... we are convinced was made with the best intentions, and with a view to promote the general interest of the union; this meeting, however, should it take place, may produce other meetings, which may have consequences which cannot be foreseen. Innovations in government, when not absolutely necessary, are dangerous, particularly to republics, generally too fond of novelties, and subject to change. In voicing its opposition, the Senate eloquently predicted what indeed did happen, and on reflection a year later, decided to join the movement for change by cheerfully acceeding to the proposed constitutional convention in Philadelphia.

I could tell you much more about the history of the institution whose history you helped fashion, but I promised President Smelser that I would not exceed my allotted time.  Instead permit me to share with you some observations of my own and those of Mark Twain, on the enjoyable but unforseen consequences of biographical research.

Inevitably, the first obstacle to pursuing a biography is the uneven quality of the evidence. Sometimes you can't find enough and other times the mass of data is overwhelming. Sometimes the results are not what you expected.

My grandmother used to say, when I questioned her about our orgins:  "Why do you want to know that for.  It is not worth knowing."  I never really understood why she felt that way until I took a morning off from a Conference a few years ago to hunt for my father's family in the 1920 census for Ohio where he and I were born.   I was looking for my great grandfather Carl Papenfuse, a not very common name.  I found two of them, both about the same age, one of them residing in the Ohio State Prison.  Grandma, bless her soul, I suspect was trying to tell me something, but my curiousity got the better of me.

Sometimes what we are looking for no longer exists. At the Maryland State Archives it is part of our legal mandate to encourage the study of the past while at the same time preserving dusty courthouse records for the study of future generations. Just saving documents is difficult enough. Consider this story from the London Annual Register for 1763.

By virtue of a search warrant, some valuable MSS that had been stolen from a public office by a woman who used to sweep the room, were lately recovered at the grocer's shop, where she had sold them for wastepaper at two-pence a pound. On her examination it appeared that she had practiced this fraud at the same office a year and a half, in which time she had disposed of an incredible number of papers, many of which are never to be retrieved.
More often than not, however, we find more evidence than expected, turning our pre-conceived notions of our subjects upside down. An Aaron Burr proves to be somewhat noble, while a Jefferson or a Hamilton are tarnished in the full light of the evidence.

Perhaps no single figure in American History is more venerated than George Washington, but he had his critics in his day, and was not always treated as respectfully as we might wish to think. In 1793, six years before he died, for example, a Kentucky newspaper cast the father of our country in a slightly different light than that to which we are accustomed. The paper tells of

a Gentleman traveling through Massachusetts who put up at a certain inn, and going to retire, requested to have certain sheets put on his bed.--the Landlady informed him that the sheets were clean, for no one had slept in them but the President of the United States, who was there the preceding night. --the gentleman declined sleeping after the President, or anyone else, and the land lady not chusing to change the sheets, gave him another bed. The next night a young lady arrived at the same inn, (an being told the story of the curious gentleman, who refused to sleep after the President) declared SHE WOULD SLEEP IN THE SHEETS, and if she could not be where he WAS, was glad to be where he HAD BEEN.
In writing biography the goal is to find the truth, of course, but I suspect we also secretly hope that we will find some singular nobilty that sets our subject above all others. It doesn't always work that way.

Mark Twain was once asked to reflect upon his ancestors,  and has left us his account of what he found. It serves as an inspiration to us all.  Here is what Twain had to say:

Two or three persons having at different times intimated that if I would write an autobiography they would read it when they got leisure, I yield at last to this frenzied public demand and herewith tender my history.

Ours is a noble old house, and stretches a long way back into antiquity. The earliest ancestor the Twains have any record of was a friend of the family by the name of Higgins. This was in the eleventh century, when our people were living in Aberdeen, county of Cork, England. Why it is that our long line has ever since borne the maternal name (except when one of them now and then took a playful refuge in an alias to avert foolishness), instead of Higgins, is a mystery which none of us has ever felt much desire to stir. It is a kind of vague, pretty romance, and we leave it alone. All the old families do that way.

Arthour Twain was a man of considerable note -- a solicitor on the highway in William Rufus's time. At about the age of thirty he went to one of those fine old English places of resort called Newgate, to see about something, and never returned again. While there he died suddenly.

Augustus Twain seems to have made something of a stir about the year 1160. He was as full of fun as he could be, and used to take his old sabre and sharpen it up, and get in a convenient place on a dark night, and stick it through people as they went by, to see them jump. He was a born humorist. But he got to going too far with it; and the first time he was found stripping one of these parties, the authorities removed one end of him, and put it up on a nice high place on Temple Bar, where it could contemplate the people and have a good time. He never liked any situation so much or stuck to it so long.

Early in the fifteenth century we have Beau Twain, called "the Scholar." He wrote a beautiful, beautiful hand. And he could imitate anybody's hand so closely that it was enough to make a person laugh his head off to see it. He had infinite sport with his talent. But by-and-by he took a contract to break stone for a road, and the roughness of the work spoiled his hand. Still, he enjoyed life all the time he was in the stone business, which, with inconsiderable intervals, was some forty-two years. In fact, he died in harness. During all those long years he gave such satisfaction that he never was through with one contract a week till the government gave him another. He was a perfect pet. An he was always a favorite with his fellow-artists, and was a conspicuous member of their benevolent secret society, called the Chain Gang. He always wore his hair short, had a preference for striped clothes, and died lamented by the government. He was a sore loss to his country. For he was so regular.

Charles Henry Twain lived during the latter part of the seventeenth century, and was a zealous and distinguished missionary. He converted sixteen thousand South Sea islanders, and taught them that a dog-tooth necklace and a pair of spectacles was not enough clothing to come to divine service in. His poor flock loved him very, very dearly; and when his funeral was over, they got up in a body (and came out of the restaurant) with tears in their eyes, and saying, one to another, that he was a good tender missionary, and they wished they had some more of him.
It is not well, when writing an autobiography, to follow your ancestry down too close to your own time -- it is safest to speak only vaguely of your great-grandfather, and then skip from there to yourself, which I now do.

I was born without teeth -- and there Richard III had the advantage of me; but I was born without a humpback, likewise, and there I had the advantage of him. My parents were neither very poor nor conspicuously honest.

But now a thought occurs to me [concludes Twain]. My own history would really seem so tame contrasted with that of my ancestors, that it is simply wisdom to leave it unwritten until I am hanged. If some other biographies I have read had stopped with the ancestry until a like event occurred, it would have been a felicitous thing for the reading public. ...

History is no better nor worse than the men and women who make it.  In pursuing what's in a name and why we should remember, we must be willing to accept the strengths and weaknesses of our subjects, and be skeptical of the sources.   I suspect we also must learn to keep within the bounds of reason, and within what the intended audience will tolerate.  A recent biography of President Reagan clearly went too far when it attempted to read his mind, ...  although I firmly believe at this point I can read yours.  Hold the biscuits.  I am finished ... for now.

Thank you and good night.