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The Election Case of Ephraim Bateman of New Jersey (1828)

Image of Ephraim Bateman

Conduct of election (legislator voting for himself)

Credentials presented: Feb. 26, 1827
Referred to committee: May. 6, 1828
Committee report: May 22, 1828
Senate action: May 22, 1828

Result: Retained seat

After spending several years as a tailor, a teacher, and a physician, Ephraim Bateman entered the New Jersey legislature in 1808. From 1815 to 1823, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives, after which he returned to the state legislature. In November 1826, following the death of Joseph McIlvaine (Adams-NJ), Bateman was the chairman of the joint meeting of the state legislature responsible for selecting a new United States senator. Originally, four candidates were nominated, but two withdrew, narrowing the race to Ephraim Bateman of the Adams party and Theodore Frelinghuysen of the Anti-Jackson party. With Bateman voting for himself, the joint meeting, by a vote of 29 to 28, elected Bateman to the senatorial seat for the remainder of McIlvaine's term and for a new term beginning March 4, 1827. On February 26, 1827, Bateman presented his credentials for the new term.

Statement of the Case
In February 1827, in the final days of the Nineteenth Congress, several members of the New Jersey legislature and other citizens challenged the legality of Ephraim Bateman's election. Their petition accused Bateman of illegal and improper conduct when he presided over the joint meeting and cast the deciding vote for himself in the contest for the Senate seat. The Senate tabled the petition, and when the Twentieth Congress convened on December 3, 1827, Ephraim Bateman was sworn in and took his seat.

In April 1828, after Bateman had already been serving in the Senate for several months, a group of the original petitioners asked John Eaton (J-TN) to bring their protest before the Senate. In response, Eaton, on May 6, 1828, introduced a resolution proposing that the February 1827 petition against Bateman be referred to a select committee, and the Senate agreed.

Response of the Senate
On May 22, 1828, the committee filed a report recommending that Bateman's election be declared legal and that the Senate take no further action. Witnesses had testified that, during the joint meeting of the New Jersey legislature, Ephraim Bateman stepped down from the chair and asked his colleagues to vote on the acceptability of his continued presence. When the joint meeting deadlocked on the question, Bateman resumed the chair.

In a review of the procedures followed in Bateman's election, the Senate committee determined that New Jersey had observed all constitutional directives relating to senatorial elections by state legislatures. It happened that Bateman was a duly elected and competent member of the legislature that designated him the senator-elect. Preferring not to comment upon the propriety of a man voting for himself, the senators dismissed the petition of the New Jersey citizens without further consideration. In effect, the Senate committee announced that it did not wish to address gray areas of right and wrong that had no direct relationship to constitutionally prescribed procedures.

In this instance, the Senate reaffirmed the responsibility of state legislatures to establish qualifications for their members, limitations on their actions, and definitions of the "interests" that would disqualify a member. No such restrictive precepts existed under New Jersey law. As a duly elected member of the legislature, Bateman had a right to vote for U.S. senator; the Senate, therefore, saw no reason to deny Bateman his seat and declined to judge the "moral" question of whether it was appropriate for the candidate to vote for himself.

Ephraim Bateman served only a brief time in the United States Senate. He resigned his seat on January 12, 1829, due to ill health, and died on January 28.

Theodore Frelinghuysen (AJ), the defeated candidate in this contest, won the other New Jersey Senate seat in 1829 and served one six-year term.

Source: Adapted from Anne M. Butler and Wendy Wolff. United States Senate Election, Expulsion, and Censure Cases, 1793-1990. S. Doc. 103-33. Washington, GPO, 1995.

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