In 1860 the U. S. Senate sentenced one Thaddeus Hyatt to 90 days in the District of Columbia jail for refusing to testify in a Senate investigation of John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. Again for the first time in 74 years, the Senate last week meted out its own punishment to recalcitrant witnesses.*
Behind closed doors, the Senate had deliberated for six hours on contempt proceedings against William MacCracken Jr., Lewis Hotchkiss Brittin, Harris M. Hanshue, Gilbert L. Givvin. All were charged with removing or permitting to be removed from Air Lobbyist MacCracken's Washington offices correspondence previously subpenaed by the Senate's ocean & airmail contract investigating committee (TIME, Feb. 12).
Shortly before 8 p. m., the defendants were brought before the bar of the Senate to hear what a jury of 96 of their peers had decided. With little ceremony, Vice President Garner directed the clerk to "read the resolutions concerning Mr. MacCracken."
Mr. MacCracken, onetime (1926-29) Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Aeronautics, longtime secretary of the American Bar Association, heard himself sentenced to ten days in the District jail for contempt.
"That," pronounced Vice President Garner, "is the order of the Senate." It was also the order of the Senate that Defendant Brittin serve a like term. Mr. Brittin had destroyed some Northwest Airways correspondence. The other two, Western Air Express officials, were purged of contempt because they had later returned to the Senate committee letters taken from the MacCracken office.
Mr. MacCracken's lawyer, Frank J. Hogan, had been fruitlessly trying for a week to get his client out of the jurisdiction of the Senate and into the jurisdiction of some court. He now asked for four days in which to enter another habeas corpus plea. Prisoner Brittin's counsel made a similar request. Both were granted and both prisoners, accompanied by the Senate's Sergeant-at-Arms Chesley W. Jurney, clumped off to a second-floor room of the Willard.
Next morning at the Willard Mr. Brittin, longtime vice president of Northwest Airways, abruptly asked Sergeant Jurney to take him to jail. "I am broke," said he. "My company has fired me. I have decided not to fight further." His attorney amplified: "Col. Brittin feels the necessary effects of the disapproval, and condemnation expressed in the decision of the Senate so completely destroys him and his future that it is idle to try and save anything from the wreck. . . ."
While cocky Mr. MacCracken was getting his habeas corpus writ. Col. Brittin, gaunt and bespectacled Spanish-American and World War veteran who had learned to fly at 55, began his prison sentence in the dingy red stone District jail. The warden asked him what he could do. He said he knew clerking.
* Last man to be jailed for contempt of the Senate was Oilman Harry Sinclair in 1929. Oilman Sinclair, however, was prosecuted, sentenced to three months' imprisonment by the District of Columbia Supreme Court on the Senate's complaint.