Electro and Animal Magnetism

I found this gem in Samuel F.B. Morse, His Letters and Journals (128-129). This debate occurred on February 21, 1844. Another bill to grant Morse the appropriation to build a prototype telegraph was passed on the 23rd. I find it an interesting example of the Congressional attitude towards technology—I don’t think things have changed that much.

On the motion of Mr. Kennedy of Maryland, the committee took up the bill to authorize a series of experiments to be made in order to test the merits of Morse’s electro-magnetic telegraph. The bill appropriates $30,000, to be expended under the direction of the Postmaster-General.

On the motion of Mr. Kennedy, the words “Postmaster-General were stricken out and “Secretary of the Treasury” inserted.

Mr. Cave Johnson wished to have a word to say upon the bill. At the present Congress had done much to encourage science, he did not wish to see the science of mesmerism neglected and overlooked. He therefore proposed that one half of the appropriation be given to Mr. Fisk, to enable him to carry on experiments as well as Professor Morse.

Mr. Houston thought that Millerism should also be included in the benefits of the appropriation.

Mr. Stanly said he should have no objection to the appropriation for mesmeric experiments, provided the gentleman from Tennessee [Mr. Cave Johnson] was the subject. [A laugh.]

Mr. Cave Johnson said he should have not objection provided the gentleman from North Carolina [Mr. Stanly] was the operator. [Great laughter.]

Several gentlemen called for the reading of the amendment, and it was read by the Clerk as follows:—

Provided, That one half of the sum shall be appropriated for trying mesmeric experiments under the direction of the Secretary of the Treasury.”

Mr. S. Mason rose to a question of order. He maintained that the amendment was not bona fide, and that such amendments were calculated to injure the character of the House. He appealed to the chair to rule the amendment out of order.

The Chairman said it was not for him to judge of the motives of members in offering amendments, and he could not, therefore undertake to pronounce the amendment not bona fide. Objections might be raised to the ground that it was not sufficiently analogous to the bill under consideration, but in the opinion of the Chair, it would require a scientific analysis to determine how far the magnetism of mesmerism was analogous to that employed in telegraphs. [Laughter.] He therefore ruled the amendment in order.

On taking the vote, the amendment was rejected—ayes 22, noes not counted.