Thomas Lindsay Blanton (October 25, 1872 – August 11, 1957) was a United States Representative from Texas. He was a member of the Democratic Party.
Born in Houston, Texas, Blanton was educated in the public schools. He graduated from the law department of the University of Texas at Austin in 1897, with three years in the academic department. He was admitted to the bar in 1897 and commenced practice in Cleburne, Texas. He moved to Albany, Texas, and continued the practice of law until 1908, when he was elected judge of the forty-second judicial district of Texas. He was reelected in 1912 and served in that capacity from 1908 until elected to Congress.
While a member of the House of Representatives of the Sixty-seventh Congress, Blanton inserted into the Congressional Record a letter purporting to have been written by one Millard French, a non-union printer, to “George H. Carter, Public Printer”; the letter recited a conversation reported to have occurred between French and a printer named Levi Huber who belonged to the union. The letter was said to contain language that was “unspeakable, vile, foul, filthy, profane, blasphemous and obscene”, in the words of Representative Franklin Mondell.
The letter itself was an affidavit sent by an employee of the Public Printer on September 3, 1921, and relates to the Government Printing Office. A selection of the letter, which relates what Levi Huber, the corrector of revises, said to the employee:
“G__d D___n your black heart, you ought to have it torn out of you, you u____ s_____ of a b_____. You and the Public Printer has no sense. You k_____ his a____ and he is a d_____d fool for letting you do it.”
Monday, October 24, 1921: After discovering what was inserted into the Record on Saturday, the House was apparently quite upset. Republican House Leader Frank W. Mondell offered a resolution to have the letter printed by Blanton to be expunged. The vote for expungement was 313-1, with Blanton being the only dissenting vote.
Tuesday, October 25, 1921: Republican House Leader Frank W. Mondell offered a resolution to expel Blanton from the House. Republican Representative McLaughlin had a stronger resolution prepared, but deferred to the leader. Coincidentally, October 25 was Blanton’s birthday. That evening, Blanton denied that his words were obscene, and he vowed to fight, saying he thought Mondell was influenced in his action by the Jewish, Marxist labor leader Samuel Gompers. Blanton was strongly anti-organized labor. Yes, in the 1920s, Democrats could be anti-union and Republicans pro-union.
Thursday, October 27, 1921: The House was full of people who listened for three hours as congressmen railed against Blanton. Republican Congressman Mondell, who had offered the resolution to expel, spoke on the floor: “Unfortunately, the subject matter forming the basis of the charge is of such a character that it cannot be presented on this floor. Were I to cite, or even to offer, a small portion of these words, I should myself be subject to expulsion. Any one speaking the words contained in the Congressional Record would be subject to fine and imprisonment under the laws of the land. We can say no more in regard to the words upon which this charge is based than that they are unspeakable, vile, foul, filthy, profane, blasphemous and obscene.”
Continuing, Mondell said, “There is not a member who will not say that it is the vilest thing he has ever seen in print. Men do some things in anger, for which we forgive them. Men commit crimes under sudden uncontrollable impulses, for which we must be lenient. This crime against this House, its dignity, its honor, this crime against decency, against every law and usage of civilized man, was done deliberately, purposely, intentionally, without either regard for the law, for the statutes, or for the honor of this House.”
Blanton was allowed to defend himself on the floor and said, “Knowing its importance to two humble citizens of the United States, who had appealed to me as a representative of this Government for protection under the Constitution in their guaranteed rights, I delivered such remarks to the messenger, Mr. Sam Robinson, about 6 or 7 or 8 o’clock in the afternoon of Saturday, requesting that the same be published that night without fail in the Record. In every offense against the law the main ingredient is the intent. Who has sought in this case to ascertain the intent?”
Continuing, “As God is my witness, I had no intent other than protecting citizens in their rights guaranteed under the Constitution and being of service to my country under my oath through apprising Congress and the Administration of the awful conditions existing in the printing office. Desperate situations demand extreme means. I caused all improper words to be abbreviated exactly in the same manner as on the official court records in Texas.”
Representative Finis Garrett, defending Blanton, insisted that Blanton had “no intention of being indecent but merely [had] a desire to show a condition existing between organized and non-organized labor in the printing office.”
Congress voted 203-113 to expel Blanton, a measure that failed the two-thirds necessary by 8 votes. 30 Republicans voted against expulsion, 6 Democrats voted for expulsion. Representative London, a Socialist from New York, voted against expulsion. Democratic Representative Sumners of Texas voted “present”. Blanton was voted to be censured with an overwhelming 293-0. The censure resolution was offered by Garrett as an lesser alternative to Mondell’s expulsion motion. Clearly, some congressmen did not vote on the second resolution.
He was escorted out of the House by the Sergeant-at-Arms. The Speaker announced, “Mr. Blanton, by unanimous vote of the house, 293 yeas, nays none, I have been directed to censure you because when you had been allowed by the courtesy of the House to print a speech which you did not deliver upon the floor, you inserted in it foul and obscene matter which you knew could not have been delivered on the floor, and that disgusting matter which could not have been circulated through the mails in any other publication without crime was transmitted to thousands of homes and libraries throughout the country to be read by men and women, and, worst of all, by children, whose prurient curiosity would be excited by it. Because of that I have been directed to pronounce, and I hereby pronounce upon you, the censure of the House.”
Blanton then fell down in the hallway and struck his head on the marble floor. After resting a few minutes on a couch, he refused medical aid and went to his office. Tears streamed down his face as he pushed his way through the spectators.
Robert D. Stevens of the University of Hawaii at Manoa wrote in a 1982 article that the offending remarks “were not all that offensive by today’s standards,” only took up half a column of the Record, and furthermore contained only 32 “obscene” words, which were already censored in the form of removing most of the letters and replacing them with underscores.
The bulk of this essay came from articles printed in the New York Times. Also consulted:
Gregory, Leland. Stupid American History: Tales of Stupidity, Strangeness, and Mythconceptions Andrews McMeel, 2009.