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The Election Case of George L. Shoup, William J. McConnell, and William H. Clagett of Idaho v. Fred T. Dubois of Idaho (1892)

Image of Fred Dubois

Election irregularities; form of credentials.

Credentials presented: Dec. 29, 1890
Referred to committee: Dec. 29, 1890
Committee report: Jan. 5, 1891
Credentials presented: Dec. 7, 1891
Referred to committee: Dec. 8, 1891
Committee report: Feb. 2, 1892
Senate vote: Mar. 3, 1892

Result: Dubois retained seat

In December 1890, the first legislature for the new state of Idaho convened to vote for two United States senators. When the legislature appeared deadlocked, one of the candidates, Fred T. Dubois (Republican), inquired of the Senate Judiciary Committee whether the state would be permitted to elect three senators, one to fill a very brief term ending March 3, 1891, one to succeed him in that seat for the full term, and one to serve either a two- or a four-year term. The committee chairman agreed to this approach, and negotiations began among the candidates to determine who would fill which seat. Ultimately, the legislature chose Republicans George L. Shoup and William J. McConnell to draw lots between the six-week and four-year terms. The legislature then elected Dubois to replace whoever drew the short term.

Statement of the Case
Although Shoup, who had been the state's first governor, signed the qualifying credentials for himself and the other two senators, the Senate raised no objections on that point and focused instead on whether the Idaho legislature had inappropriately tried to anticipate the Senate's action regarding the classes of the two new senators. When, on December 29, 1890, the credentials for Shoup and McConnell were presented, the Senate referred them to the Committee on Privileges and Elections, but also permitted George Shoup, who was present, to be sworn in. A week later on January 5, 1891, the committee returned a brief, favorable report recommending that William McConnell also be sworn in. McConnell, having arrived in Washington, came forward and was seated as the second Idaho senator. When the two drew lots to determine the length of term, Shoup won the four-year term, while McConnell was assigned to the brief term due to conclude on March 3, 1891.

On December 30, 1890, Fred T. Dubois had presented his credentials for the full term to begin on March 4, 1891, which were also referred to the Committee on Privileges and Elections. The committee quickly responded that the Senate did not consider matters for a future Congress and recommended that Dubois' papers be placed on file. On January 10, 1891, a memorial arrived from some Idaho legislators, contending that Dubois should not be seated and questioning whether a state legislature could elect a new senator before the Senate had determined when a term ended. The Senate referred this document to the Committee on Privileges and Elections.

In February 1891, the Idaho legislature held a second vote and selected Republican William H. Clagett to fill the term beginning March 4, 1891. The stated reason for the second election was that the Senate would ultimately challenge the validity of Dubois' election, but an equally crucial factor was the insistence on representation in the Senate by the mineral-rich northern portion of the state, which had little in common with the agricultural south.

Response of the Senate
The Senate did not turn its attention to the contest between Clagett and Dubois until the latter appeared to claim his seat on December 7, 1891, at the beginning of the regular congressional session. Members, agreeing that Dubois' credentials appeared in order, admitted him on December 8, but referred the credentials of both claimants to the Committee on Privileges and Elections.

On February 2, 1892, the committee returned a bipartisan majority report favorable to Fred Dubois, with a resolution denying Clagett's claim. The majority ruled that Dubois had been legally elected and that his election predated Clagett's. A minority report submitted by two Democratic committee members, on the other hand, agreed with Clagett's assertion that the Idaho legislature had not been organized until Tuesday, December 9, 1890, rather than Monday, December 8. Thus, under the 1866 election law requirement that a Senate election be held "on the second Tuesday after the meeting and organization" of a legislature, the election should not have been held on Tuesday, December 16, but a week later. The committee's majority rejected this claim, since at the time of the election no protest was lodged in the legislature that the body was not sufficiently organized to conduct business. The first indication of a question had appeared in the January 10 memorial received by the Senate, followed in February by adoption of a legislative resolution stating that a new election would be held, because the election of Dubois might not be valid.

During the debate that followed, the Senate granted Clagett a seat on the floor and two hours to defend his claim. Given his opportunity to speak, Clagett asserted that he knew much about the admission process because, during his long life on the frontier, he had assisted with the entry of many new states. Despite his promise that this experience gave him a keen appreciation for the elements and purposes in the transformation from territorial to state government, Clagett only droned on about party pledges and trickery in Idaho. Dubois, from his advantageous position of sitting senator, reviewed the state legislature's 1890 decision to elect three senators at once, an action he insisted the assembly thought had several precedents.

On March 3, 1892, the Senate voted that Fred Dubois should retain his seat. The lengthy floor debate ultimately had required the Senate to rule on several related points.

  • In the case of Shoup, the Senate, without objection, accepted credentials signed by a governor certifying his own election.
  • The Senate did not delay the seating of McConnell and Shoup, even though the state assembly's joint convention proceedings were not included in the credentials but submitted separately.
  • The Senate examined the credentials of McConnell and Shoup because of a question about which vacancy was to be filled in the assignment of classes to senators from the newly admitted state.
  • In the case of Claggett and Dubois, the Senate ruled, in response to point of order, that an amendment offered to a resolution to declare a member entitled to a seat is out of order if the amendment consists merely of a declaration of principles and odes not state whether a contestant is or is not elected.
  • This was one of the very few occasions on which the Senate granted a claimant who had not been seated the opportunity to present his case on the Senate floor.

The Senate also reiterated its traditional rulings on two other points: the Senate would not act upon credentials presented before the beginning of the Congress to which they apply but would simply place them on file; and the Committee on Privileges and Elections would examine federal and state constitutions and statutes to determine whether a state legislature was properly organized at the time of a senator's election.

One month later in April 1892, the Committee on Privileges and Elections recommended that William Clagett receive $4,000 and Fred Dubois $2,000 for expenses in prosecuting their claims to the Idaho seat.

In 1895 Clagett again unsuccessfully sought election to the United States Senate.

Fred Dubois lost his bid for reelection as a Silver Republican in 1896 but won in 1901 and then became a Democrat and served until 1907. From 1924 until his death in 1930, he served as a member of the commission that worked to prevent water boundary disputes between the United States and Canada.

McConnell remained in the Senate only until March 3, 1891, and then served four years as governor of Idaho. He subsequently held a post with the U.S. Immigration Service until his death in 1925.

George Shoup was reelected in 1894 and served in the Senate until 1901. He died in 1904.

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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