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The Election Case of David Turpie of Indiana (1888)

David Turpie

Electoral misconduct.

Memorial submitted: Feb. 10, 1887
Referred to committee: Feb. 16, 1887; Dec. 6, 1887
Committee report: May 14, 1888
Senate vote: May 15, 1888

Result: Retained seat

David Turpie's public career encompassed an era of national turbulence. In 1863, Indiana sent Turpie to the Senate as a replacement for Jesse Bright, expelled for his support of the Confederacy during the Civil War. After his brief Senate service, Turpie returned to Indiana, where he held a variety of state posts during the disorders of Reconstruction. In 1887, Indiana, a state that had seen its share of political party infighting and factionalism, sent Democrat David Turpie to the United States Senate for a second time.

Statement of the Case
On February 10, 1887, before the beginning of Turpie's term, members of the Indiana legislature submitted a memorial protesting his election. When Turpie's credentials for a term to begin March 4 were presented six days later, the Senate referred both sets of papers to the Committee on Privileges and Elections. The committee, however, asked to be discharged from consideration of the matter until it was reconstituted at the beginning of the new Congress, since the credentials and protest related to a Congress not yet in session. The Senate agreed.

On December 6, 1887, at the opening of the Fiftieth Congress, David Turpie appeared and was sworn in. That same day, his opponents filed a new protest, and all papers in the Turpie case were referred to the Committee on Privileges and Elections. The Indiana protest claimed that a lawfully elected Republican state senator had been ejected from the Democratic-controlled body and replaced by a Democrat for the express purpose of guaranteeing Turpie's election, and that a second ineligible Democratic legislator had voted in the election. According to Turpie's opponents in the legislature, the participation in the vote by illegally chosen members should invalidate Turpie's election.

Response of the Senate
On May 14, 1888, the committee issued a report in favor of Turpie, stating that even if the charges were true they were not sufficient to invalidate the election, since "the body in question was the constitutional senate of Indiana." In the floor debates, George F. Hoar (R-MA), the committee chairman, rejected the Indiana arguments. Hoar made a distinction between a case like the recent one of Henry Payne in 1886, in which there were allegations of bribery and corruption in the election itself, and the present situation, where the question related to the makeup of the state legislature. Although in the Payne case Hoar had argued in vain that the Senate had a duty to investigate the charges of electoral corruption, in the current case he believed that the U.S. Senate had no right to determine who could cast a vote in the legislature. Henry Teller (Republican-CO) supported Hoar, adding, "It does not lie in the power of the Senate . . . [and] it never was intended by the framers of this Government that that question of the right of members of the Indiana State Legislature to sit in either body there would ever be a subject of discussion in this body."

On May 15, 1888, the Senate agreed. By voice vote, it discharged the committee from further consideration of the matter and dropped the inquiry.

In its report, the committee specifically did not preclude the Senate from refusing to admit a senator elected by "a legislative body which is itself the result of fraud or crime, which has overcome the true will of the people." If such a case were to arise, it would be "dealt with on its own merits." Such circumstances, of course, had occurred during the Reconstruction cases of the 1860s and 1870s, when the Senate did in fact scrutinize the composition of certain southern state legislatures to determine whether they met the criteria established in the Reconstruction acts. By the 1880s, however, Reconstruction was over, and the Senate would generally seat the senator chosen, as long as an election was carried out by a recognized state legislature according to the procedures set forth in the 1866 election act.

David Turpie retired from the Senate in 1899 and died in 1909.

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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