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HON. CHARLES A. PHELPS,
SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE.
The Massachusetts House of Representatives is the largest legislative body in the United States, and is only exceeded in numbers by the British House of Commons, which is composed of 658 members, and the House of Lords, which has 448 members. The House of Representatives in Congress numbers but 234 members. The Massachusetts House, this year, has 329 members.
Perhaps the office of Speaker of the House is as difficult a post as a young and inexperienced man can be elevated to, and if he succeeds in discharging its duties acceptably, he has established for himself a position and a reputation which no circumstances can detract from ; if he discharges them to his own satisfaction, he has achieved a victory, indeed, of which he may well be proud. A speaker, to acquit himself creditably, must possess firmness, readiness, a quick eye and ear, a clear perception, a good voice, business talents, an aptitude for parliamentary law, and a manner that will command respect.
These are rare qualities to be combined in one person. Speaker, however, has given excellent indications that he possesses them in no small measure, and is every way equal to the task before him. The only thing in which he showed a hesitancy on first assuming the chair, a want of familiarity with the routine of the speakership,—is fast disappearing. Under his prompt and judicious administration the public business is despatched without unnecessary delay. He is prompt and decisive, has a clear, sonorous voice, which is of great advantage to every member in the House. If the members second him in his energy, and they seem well disposed to do so, we shall not only have a short session, which is so highly desirable in the present juncture of affairs, but the legislation of 1856 will be despatched in a business-like manner..
Mr. Phelps is serving his second legislative year. One might argue from this that his legislative experience is limited. But it does not follow that a man who has sat for years in legislative halls is necessarily experienced; nor does it follow that one who has never sat as a member is. necessarily inexperienced. The fact is, the observant, thoughtful, and reflecting man, is daily qualifying himself for any position to which he may be called. There are not a few spectators of the proceedings of legislative bodies, who never sat as members, who could instruct even veterans in parliamentary law. The Speaker has had, perhaps, the best training it was possible to give him to qualify himself for his duties. In early life, he enjoyed the rare advantage of listening to the conversation of public men, on all topics of great public interest. Their conversations took the form of debates and were governed by rules. This early initiation into a consideration of grave questions by prominent public men, was of the last
importance to the embryo Speaker, in developing and forming his mind and stamping his character.
The Speaker was born in Boston, Oct. 19th, 1820, and is, therefore, in the 36th year of his age. He comes from a legislative family,—if we may so term it. His father, Dr. Abner Phelps, was a member of the House from Boston, in 1826, when he made the first proposition for a railroad from Boston to the Hudson River—and for three years following. His grandfather, Eliakim Phelps, was an influential member of the House from Belchertown half a century ago, and was elected for eleven succes
He was, also, a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1820.
Young Phelps received his primary education in the Boston public schools, and fitted for college partly at the Boston Latin School, partly at Phillips Academy, Andover, and partly with private tutors, no expense being spared in his education. At Andover he resided in the family of the late Professor Stuart, a maternal relative, whose energy and enthusiasm of character must have had an influence on a young man to impress his mind.
He entered Yale as Freshman, in 1838, but, to save time, left in three months and entered Union College, at Schenectady, as Sophomore, under Dr. Nott, whence he graduated in 1841 with distinguished honors. After a three years' course of medical study at Boston and Philadelphia, he received his degree of doctor of medicine at Harvard University, 1844, and the same year entered the holy bonds of matrimony, taking for his partner and help-mate the sister of Judge Ira Harris, of Albany.
Mr. Phelps, now settled in life, devoted himself to the practice of his profession with eminent success. He continued unremittingly until 1850, when, desirous of relaxation, he determined upon making the tour of Europe, where he remained a year, visiting nearly every capital, enlarg. ing and expanding his mind by acute and accurate observations. He frequented, when in London, both Houses of Parliament, and in Paris, the Chamber of Deputies, where he had an opportunity of listening to the most eminent orators of Great Britain and France.
On his return he again devoted himself to his profession, and though always well informed on all the great political questions of the day, never engaged actively in the arena until 1855, when he entered heartily into the American movement, and made his first political speeches for the advancement of that cause. He was elected member of the House in 1855, and at once took a commanding position among his colleagues. It was seriously contemplated to nominate him for Speaker then, but it transpiring that he would not consent to stand, his claims were not pressed. Mr. Phelps is essentially a worker.
worker. He improves his time. Whatsoever thing his hands find to do, he does it with all his might. Ever attentive to the business of the House, he prevents complications of business that would accumulate around and embarrass a less careful man.
We consider it a matter of congratulation that one who commences a high career so promisingly has been elected by the members for their presiding officer.