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The Election Case of Robert H.M. Davidson v. Wilkinson Call of Florida (1892)

Image of Wilkinson Call

Conduct of election.

Credentials presented: Dec. 7, 1891
Referred to committee: Dec. 8, 1891
Committee report: Jan. 25, 1892
Senate vote: Feb. 4, 1892

Result: Call retained seat

In 1865 the Florida legislature elected Wilkinson Call (Democrat) to the United States Senate; but the Senate, caught in the first confusion of early Reconstruction policies, denied him admission, and the state remained unrepresented in the Senate until 1868. When Florida again selected the former Confederate adjutant general in 1879, a more amenable Senate, willing to forget his Civil War service, seated Call.

Statement of the Case
Wilkinson Call's second term expired March 3, 1891, and on May 26 of that year the Florida legislature reelected him for the term that had begun on March 4.

On December 7, 1891, Call's credentials were presented, as were those of Robert H. M. Davidson (Democrat), a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, for the same seat. Davidson's supporters contended that, when the assembly voted for Call, fewer than a quorum of the members of one house had been present for the joint session. Considering that no valid election had taken place, the governor had appointed Davidson to fill the vacancy.

The Senate hesitated only a day before deciding upon its course of action. It permitted Wilkinson Call to take his seat and sent the credentials of both claimants to the Committee on Privileges and Elections.

Response of the Senate

On January 25, 1892, the committee returned a unanimous report stating that Call had been properly elected by the legislature and was entitled to his seat. Davidson had challenged the election on the ground that a quorum of the state senate was not present at the time of the election. The committee pointed out that, under the 1866 act governing Senate elections, the joint assembly of the two houses was a separate body to consist of “‘a majority of all the members elected to both houses’ without any reference to a quorum” of either house. Fifty-two of the 100 members of the Florida legislature were present and voted. Of these, 51 voted for Call, making a majority of the members of both houses. The committee therefore determined that, since the legislature had in fact elected Call, no vacancy existed for the governor to fill.

In the Senate debate on February 4, 1892, William E. Chandler (Republican-NH) presented a lengthy argument defending the constitutionality of the 1866 election statute. Following a discussion regarding various provisions of that law that did not relate to the present case, the Senate agreed with the committee that Wilkinson Call had been properly elected and should retain his seat.

In March 1892, the Senate agreed to pay Robert Davidson $1,250 for expenses he incurred while contesting the seat.

Wilkinson Call served in the Senate until 1897 and then returned to Florida to practice law. He died in 1910.

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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