[11 February 1796]
On 8 December 1795 Matthew Lyon petitioned the House, protesting the election of Israel Smith (Vermont). The petition was referred to the Committee of Elections, which returned to the House on 27 January 1796 a report in favor of Smith. Debate began 11 February on whether to recommit the report to allow Lyon to present further evidence on behalf of his petition (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 4th Cong., 1st sess., 128, 269, 315–18).
Mr. Madison observed that it seemed to be supposed that they must either decide for the petitioner or against him. But the house might determine the business in this way, viz. that the evidence before it was not sufficient, and give further time for fresh testimony to be brought in, if the petitioner chose to proceed in his complaint. In acting thus, says he, we shall leave a door open to the petitioner,1 without volunteering ourselves to gain evidence. If the report was re-committed this might be done.
Claypoole’s Am. Daily Advertiser, 13 Feb. 1796 (reprinted in Philadelphia Gazette, 13 Feb. 1796).
1. Matthew Lyon (1749–1822) had previously opposed Smith in the Vermont congressional elections of 1791 and 1793. In 1795 Smith won by a margin of only twenty-one votes, and Lyon contested the result on the grounds that the sheriff in the towns of Kingston and Hancock had failed to notify the citizens of the date of the election, thus depriving them of an opportunity to vote. Lyon further alleged that the two towns contained fifty voters, enough to change the outcome of the election. During the debate that began on 11 Feb. 1796, the House, on 15 Feb., voted to postpone consideration of the report until 29 Mar., then, on 17 Feb., it rescinded its resolution and recommitted Lyon’s petition to the Committee of Elections. Lyon seems to have organized petitions from Kingston and Hancock to support his claim, and by 13 May 1796, the Committee of Elections had reversed its earlier position, reporting that Smith was not entitled to his seat. The House considered this new report on 27 and 28 May, and voted 28 to 41 on 31 May against accepting it. JM voted in the negative, and Smith retained his seat (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 4th Cong., 1st sess., 319–20, 326, 332, 338, 1464–66, 1496–98; ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … (38 vols.; Washington, 1832–61). description ends , Claims, pp. 139, 152; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States (9 vols.; Washington, 1826). description ends , 2:369, 386, 429, 435, 441, 443, 445, 446, 486, 555, 584, 585–86, 597–98; Aleine Austin, Matthew Lyon: “New Man” of the Democratic Revolution, 1749–1822 [Philadelphia and London, 1981], pp. 64–72).