Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, November 2, 2006


Page 15



Peanuts Consumed During Sessions of U.S. Congress in 1800s




The cracking of peanut shells and gobbling of the kernels was a common sight at public events of all sorts from the mid- to late-1800s. As recently discussed here, this took place even at operas and in courtrooms. (The closer it got to the turn of the century, the less acceptable it became.) So, it’s no wonder that peanut munching occurred in the nation’s legislative halls…including Congress.

From the Galveston (Texas) Daily News on April 24, comes this:

“The Washington correspondent of the New York Tribune thinks that a committee on manners, to instruct members in the rudimentary principles of good behavior, is much needed in Congress. He complains that a member of the House, from Tennessee, has a habit of combing his hair and beard and cleaning his teeth with his handkerchief, under the eyes of the galleries and in the presence of the House; tells a ‘gentleman’ Representative from Illinois that it is not exemplary conduct to swear at a doorkeeper and threaten to throw him downstairs; but says:

“The habit of sitting with the feet upon desks would doubtless be regarded by the committee as a part of the birthright of every free American, and they could scarcely be exacted to prohibit the eating of apples and peanuts during the sessions.”

The write-up of an interview with Nicholas Ford, a folksy member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1833-1897, appeared in a Kansas newspaper, The Globe, on May 6, 1881. Among the comments from Ford, a Greenback who represented a district in Missouri, was this:

“No sir, the people will never get any good out of Congress. The average Congressman is on the make, and don’t care a damn for the people. The average Congressman goes to Washington to draw his pay and have a good time. He goes to Washington for the honor of the thing, and you see him in his seat eating peanuts, reading a newspaper or a novel, or asleep—doing anything and everything but thinking for his constituents or working for them

Members of the Confederate Congress, too, ate peanuts while in session. Marshall W. Fishwick in the 1963 book “Lee after the War” wrote:

“When defeat finally came, Southerners believed it was their own bungling bureaucracy—not the Yankees—that had caused it. In his heart of hearts, [General Robert E.] Lee thought so, too. Of the Confederate Congress in Richmond, he once said: ‘They don’t seem to be able to do anything except eat peanuts and chew tobacco while my army is starving.’ And again: ‘The only unfailing friend the Confederacy ever had was cornfield peas’ ”—that is, peanuts.

Here are some stray historical notes about peanuts, with political tinges to them:

This curse (from a work of fiction) was published by the Kenosha (Wisc.) Times on Aug. 13, 1857: “Oh! May heaven shower red hot peanuts on your head, and may your children grow up and become aldermen or members of congress!”

The Wisconsin Mirror, published in Kilbourn City, observed on May 4, 1858:

“A law ought to be passed immediately to remove the Capital, or the Legislature at least, to some place in the State, where there are no theater, saloons…candy boys, or peanuts. Such things interfere greatly with legislation.”

The Newark (Ohio) Daily Advocate on Sept. 9, 1890 rather wittily discounted the prospect of a GOP victory in the county, saying:

“In Licking county we have a solid Democratic majority and a Democratic nomination is equivalent to an election. It is about as profitable running on the Republican ticket in Licking county as it is to peddle peanuts in a grave yard.”

Vice President Thomas Riley Marshall and his wife lived in a hotel in the District of Columbia and had no pets…other than the squirrels with which he said he “had to hobnob.” Chicago’s Suburbanite Economist on Aug. 2, 1914, reported that Marshall was “a familiar figure in Lafayette square, where he is seen going in and out among the trees of the park, coaxing the squirrels to come down for a peanut, or sitting side by side with two or three upon a bench, making them beg for their supper, which they know is in his pockets.”

Here’s a May 8, 1918 news dispatch from Washington, as published in the Lincoln (Neb.) Daily Star:

“President Wilson went to the circus last night with Mrs. Wilson and some 15,000 other residents of the capital and vicinity. He arrived in time to look over the menagerie, stayed for the concert and filled the floor of his box with peanut hulls. At the entrance a collector held the president up to get a 15 cent war tax on the complimentary ticket.”

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