Judge Hooper on an Archaic Peculiarity
by Ellis Parker Butler
Judge Hooper, Riverbank's eminent Justice of the Peace, had just seated himself on the last vacant throne of Dago Joe's shoe polishing emporium, when the Honorable (no doubt) Benjamin Biff, newly elected member of Congress, entered with a rush, cursed irritably because his shoes could not have instant attention, and was about to dash out again.
"Seem to be in a rush, Ben," Judge Hooper said with amusement. "Seem to be all fussed up, don't you?"
"Yes, I am!" the representative of our splendid district declared. "Nothing in this confounded world but wait -- wait -- wait! That wife of mine kept me waiting for breakfast, and now I've got to wait for a chance to have my shoes blacked! It makes me sick!"
"I guess you're in a rush to get down there to Washington and begin your legislative career, hey, Ben?" suggested the Judge.
"Career? Washington?" fumed Mr. Biff. "There's another idiotic wait. Judge, do you know that between the time when I was elected and the time I assemble in session at Washington there is an interval of thirteen months? You elect me, Judge, and I have to wait thirteen months before I take my seat! If that isn't an archaic peculiarity of our governmental arrangements, I don't know one when I see it! Thirteen months!"
"It does seem sort of short," said Judge Hooper.
"What? Short?" cried Mr. Biff. "You mean long, don't you? Why, Judge, the length of time between the day I was elected and the day I can take my seat in Congress is so big it can ruin me -- absolutely ruin me! And has, mighty near! I won the votes of the people of this town, Judge, by pledging my word that I would work for an appropriation of $50,000 to dredge away the sandbar in front of the levee. And what happens? Along comes a rise of the river and washes the sandbar plumb away, and I'm ten months off from sitting in Congress still! It's a crime! Maybe there was a time once when it took a man thirteen months to ride horseback from somewhere to Washington, but now he can get there in a few days. Times have changed, Judge."
"I guess so, Ben," agreed Judge Hooper. "Maybe that was what I had in my mind. Back a hundred years or so, Ben, seems like there wasn't such an awful lot a raw Congressman had to study up and learn in order to legislate fair and proper for his constituency. You could take him out from behind the counter of his grocery and put him on horseback and send him across-country, meeting folks and seeing how things was, and it was right, likely -- if he gave his mind to it – he might get some notion of things in thirteen months, no matter how dumb and localized he was when he was elected. I might even trust you, Ben, to get some sort of notion of things if you rode across country for thirteen months and put up overnight with Henry Clay here, and Daniel Webster there, or Tom Jefferson in this place, or G. Washington in that place. But I don't know that you'd learn much, Ben, except some new smutty stories, in two days and a night in a Pullman sleeper.
"I ain't right sure, Ben, that if you gave your whole time and attention to the economic problems of this district and the bearing on them of what's happening, and what has happened, in Europe, for a full thirteen months, you'd know enough to vote any wiser than you would vote if you chucked a penny and voted heads or tails as the case might be.
"You may come back at me, Ben, by saying I'm an ignorant old fool not to know that my representative in Congress ain't supposed to know anything except to vote the way the boss of his bloc tells him, but if that's all you've got to do down there, Ben, you might as well stay right here and send your proxy. I don't mean any disrespect to a man that's been in the second-hand furniture auction business as long as you've been, Ben, but I shouldn't wonder if a first-class piece of linen paper, properly printed and with a pink ten-cent revenue stamp affixed, might vote en bloc just about as meekly as some legislators I have heard of, and that seems to be the main idea these days.
"To my notion, Ben, thirteen months ain't a bit too long for a man to learn to pinochle, bridge, golf, or how to legislate for one hundred million Americans with side-lights on twenty or thirty European nations and Asia, Africa, and South America. There were four of you running for Congress last election, Ben, and nobody has told me that all four of you spent the twelve or thirteen months before election studying up the tremendous questions that will come before Congress. I've a notion that one of you spent a good part of his time wondering who he could get to endorse his note so he could borrow money to pay his campaign expenses, and another fretted nights about how he could kiss the farm babies without having his whiskers scare them into fits. Another spent most of his time, I shouldn't wonder, lining up the factory vote, and -- meaning no disrespect, Ben -- another gave almost all his attention to an all-too-fugitive sandbar and its possible variations as campaign speech material. So I shouldn't wonder if about thirteen months' study might be a good thing for whichever of you was elected."