The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics -

“There has been a lot of use of the term ‘pork bar­rel’ lately,” Wash­ing­ton his­to­rian John Lockwood can’t help but ob­serve, re­fer­ring to the bil­lions in spending doled out by Pres­i­dent Obama and the Demo­cratic lead­er­ship.

Mr. Lockwood tells us he’s been dig­ging through old books and news­pa­pers to find out when “pork bar­rel” first ap­peared in its present con­text. “I found the term was be­ing widely used by the 1880s,” he re­veals.

In fact, the Dirk­sen Con­gres­sional Cen­ter ed­u­cates “pork bar­rel” be­came a po­lit­i­cal ref­er­ence in the post–Civil War era, de­rived from the plan­ta­tion prac­tice of dis­tribut­ing ra­tions of salt pork from wooden bar­rels. Th­ese days it’s used to de­scribe leg­is­la­tion loaded with spe­cial projects for law­mak­ers to dis­trib­ute to con­stituents, cour­tesy of the fed­eral tax­payer.

Back to Mr. Lockwood, the ear­li­est use of the phrase he found was pub­lished in the New York Times on May 9, 1884. The his­to­rian for­warded a copy of the clip­ping, head­lined “Wran­gling in the House” (suf­fice it to say, the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, his­tor­i­cally speak­ing, is a con­fused bunch):

“Mr. Sin­gle­ton made a fruit­less ef­fort in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives to­day to call up the bill pro­vid­ing for a new build­ing for the Con­gres­sional Li­brary. Mr. Hol­man ob­jected to the con­sid­er­a­tion of any­thing but ap­pro­pri­a­tion bills, and the re­sult was a strug­gle which lasted over an hour.

“Mr. El­lis was anx­ious to call up the bill lend­ing $1 mil­lion to the New Orleans Cot­ton Ex­hi­bi­tion, and so he helped to keep back the Li­brary bill. Mr. Reed joined Mr. Sin­gle­ton in plead­ing for the lat­ter mea­sure, and Mr. Stock­slager added to the con­fu­sion by try­ing to open the pub­lic build­ings pork-bar­rel.

“So many mo­tions were made that the friends of the Li­brary bill lost their reck­on­ing and voted against their own mo­tion, think­ing they were op­pos­ing Mr. Stock­slager. When the mis­take was dis­cov­ered Mr. Sin­gle­ton moved a re­con­sid­er­a­tion of the vote. Mr. El­lis promptly pro­posed to ta­ble this mo­tion, and by a vote of 134 to 34 this was done.

“Then the House went into Com­mit­tee of the Whole, and there was an­other long wran­gle, end­ing at last in a victory for Mr. El­lis.”

John McCaslin can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jm­c­caslin@wash­ing­ton times.com.

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