Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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BROAD SEAL WAR, The (IN U. S. HISTORY). I. Until 1846 all the six members of the house of representatives were chosen in New Jersey, by general ticket, by the people of the whole state. At the election in 1838, (Oct. 9-10), the democratic candidates received an average majority, on the face of the returns, of about 100 votes in a poll of nearly 57,000. In one township (South Amboy) of Middlesex county, giving 252 democratic majority, the return had no certificate of the election of one of the inspectors, and was not signed by the election clerk; the county clerk therefore struck the whole return out, thus giving the whig candidates a majority in the state. The democrats claimed that exactly similar defects had been passed without question in whig counties, and that in any such case the laws required the state canvassing board, the governor and council, to send by express for the missing returns and decide upon their validity; this the board refused to do, decided that they were bound by the clerk's decision, and gave the whig candidates certificates of election, under the broad seal of the state. A case similar in most respects occurred in Millville township, Cumberland county; and the whigs claimed to have discovered a number of illegal votes cast in democratic townships. But the Millville democratic majority was under 100, and so was not vital, and the alleged fraudulent votes were not brought before the board and did not influence its decision. The South Amboy case, and the county clerk's power to finally decide it, were therefore the pivotal points of the controversy.


—II. When congress met. Dec. 2, 1839, the house contained 119 democrats and 118 whigs outside of New Jersey, whose seats were claimed by both parties. The clerk of the house, H. A. Garland, of Virginia, offset the action of the Middlesex county clerk, by refusing, when the roll call reached New Jersey, to call the names of five of the whig delegation, on the ground that their seats were disputed, a fact of which he could have had no official knowledge. His decision made the house for the next three days a bedlam, each party struggling to force in its New Jersey delegation, in order to control the house and the election of speaker. Dec. 5, the house spasmodically chose John Quincy Adams, a neutral (see ADAMS, J. Q.) speaker pro tempore. An angry, confused and disorderly debate, and unsuccessful attempts to choose a permanent speaker, followed, both New Jersey delegations voting on many questions. Dec. 11, the right of either delegation to vote was denied by a small majority, and Dec. 17, the house at last chose as speaker R. M. T. Hunter, of Virginia, a whig, but in favor of the subtreasury, and therefore (see INDEPENDENT TREASURY) more acceptable to the democrats. March 10, 1840, by a vote of 111 to 81, the democratic contestants were seated, and July 16, the majority report of the committee on their case, declaring them duly elected, was adopted by a vote of 102 to 22. Owing to the length of the report and testimony, and lack of time to examine them, most of the whigs refused to vote.


—The controversy is mainly interesting because of the reversal of parties upon it. The loose constructionist whigs, in this case, held the action of a state government binding, even in a congressional election, until reversed by the house; the strict constructionist democrats, on the other hand, treated the action of a state government, in this case, as a nullity. In this respect the broad seal war is illustrative of the disputed election of 1876. (see DISPUTED ELECTIONS, IV.; CONSTRUCTION, III.)


—See 2 von Holst's United States, 337; 10 Adams' Memoir of John Quincy Adams, 176, 236; 2 Benton's Thirty Years' View, 159; Democratic Review, June, 1839. 16 Benton's Debates of Congress practically ignores the whole affair.


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