A little over 100 years ago, in 1915, the House of Assembly was thrown into crisis. What had been discovered, was an incredible web of acts and omissions of crucial facts, on behalf of a sitting member of the Assembly. These acts and omissions threatened the very perception of integrity in the membership of the House.
Leon Walton Young was the elected representative for the Eastern District of New Providence from 1912 to 1942. However, by 1915, a serious problem arose over Young’s qualifications, after it was discovered he had claimed to be an American citizen. If Mr. Young was indeed an American citizen, he could not legally be a representative in the House of the Assembly in the Bahamas. Mr. Young also faced another problem, for all intents and purposes, it appeared that L.W. Young was insolvent. Owing to the extraordinary nature of what amounted to a unique constitutional predicament regarding standing, a Committee on Qualifications was quickly established. The committee was mandated to inquire into the unusual affairs of Mr. Leon Walton Young.
To be a sitting member of parliament in the Bahama Islands, there were established legal requirements, as is common in all countries. Citizenship, residency, land ownership, good character and solvent financial standing requirements were mandated by law. Today, persons wishing to become constituency representatives would have to satisfy the modern day version of these requirements, as well as the requirements stated by the political party under which the candidate is running. In fact, the onus would be placed on the political party to perform the stringent vetting process for any prospective candidate. However, some one hundred years ago, in 1915, there were no established political parties in the Bahamas. They hadn’t been formed yet. Official political parties wouldn’t be formed for another 50 years or so. Persons, only men at the time, competing for elected office, all ran as independents. With the Bahamas being so small, it was taken as granted that everyone knew everyone else, and if someone was a scoundrel, unfit, in serious debt or had a criminal record, it would quickly become public knowledge, through that time honoured island communication system called gossip.
In 1915, an eagerly awaited report from a select committee comprising Members of Parliament, George Weech MP City District, Aubrey Kenneth Solomon MP Abaco, Robert Henry Curry MP Andros Island and Ernest Lenkard Bowen MP Southern District was presented to the House of Assembly. The Committee on Qualifications, as they were officially named, were tasked with discovering whether or not, a sitting member of the Bahama Islands Assembly, Mr. L. W. Young, had met the necessary requirements to be a member in good standing in the House of Assembly. This was indeed a strange and rather embarrassing turn of events, as Mr. Young had already been a duly elected member of the House for the Eastern District.
Rumors had been circulating, around Nassau that Mr. Young was not qualified to be a sitting member of the house of assembly because he was in fact an American citizen. These were not idle rumors or hearsay from a nosey member of the public, it was in fact Mr. Young himself who had claimed to be so on 4th February 1915 when he boarded the S. S. Miami sailing to Miami Florida.
The question of course would now naturally become, why would an elected Member of the Bahamian Parliament claim to be an America citizen as he boarded a boat heading for the United States. We can of course only wildly speculate on this. Was he simply mistaken or was it an ill-considered declaration made in haste? Was it easier to travel to America as a citizen rather than as a foreigner Bahamian? Whatever the reasons, word quickly spread in Nassau and the declaration made by Mr. Young was somehow uncovered and relayed to the Bahama Islands Assembly. Swift action had to be taken to clarify the position and assuage the minds of the people of the Bahamas that the representative for the Eastern District was indeed a Bahamian citizen. A special investigative committee was ordered.
By 12th April 1915, the Committee on Qualifications issued their report after an investigation that took them all the way to the District Court of Key West, Florida.
Proceedings of the House of Assembly. The following reports were laid on the table.
“Report of Committee on Qualifications of Leon Walton Young:
Mr. Weech, from the Committee of Qualifications to whom was referred the qualifications of Leon Walter Young to sit and vote as a member of this House handed in the following report which, being brought up, was read and ordered to be printed:
The Committee on Qualifications who were instructed to inquire into the qualifications of Leon Walton Young beg to report:
That they are satisfied that Mr. Young on the fourth day of February 1915 claimed to be an American citizen and took passage on the s. s. Miami to Miami, Florida, as such.
That upon enquiry being made at the District Court of Key West, Florida – the Court before which Mr. Young alleged he declared his intentions to become an American citizen – they find that although Mr. Young in the year 1907 declared his intention of becoming an American citizen he was ever naturalized at eh said District Court of Key West (as per the attached certificate) and there is little doubt that at the time of his election he was and still is a British subject.
With respect to Mr. Young’s monetary qualifications your committee is satisfied that on the 27th November, 1914, judgement was obtained against Mr. Young in the Magistrates’ Court of New Providence for the same of £11 2s. 9d. That the sum of £2 was afterwards paid on account of the judgement but on the 12th of February, 1915, as the balance of £9 2s. 9d. was still unsatisfied execution was issued against him. The few articles levied on by the Constable of the Court were claimed by third parities and Mr. Young was subsequently brought before the Court on a judgement summons. On hearing the summons the Magistrate ordered Mr. Young to pay the sum due or in default that he should be imprisoned. The judgement was satisfied.
Mr. Young, however, has produced to your committee a cheque for £200 on The Royal Bank of Canada drawn by his wife and payable to himself to order. This cheque was certified by the said Bank. Your Committee subsequently requested Mr. Young to produce the deposit receipt for this cheque. This he declined to do claiming that he had paid out money for materials, labour, etc. on his house. On being requested to produce further proof of his qualification Mr. Young ended in a title deed, from his wife to him, for the property, corner of Armstrong and Shirley Sts., dated March 8th , 1915.
We are, therefore, of the opinion that, so far also as monetary qualification is concerned, Mr. Young is properly qualified to serve as a member of this Honourable House.
ERNEST L. BOWEN
Committee Room, House of Assembly, April 12th, 1915
The Qualifications Committee telegraphed the United States to clarify the declaration of citizenship made by L.W. Young.
This is to certify that Leon Walton Young, carpenter, a native of Nassau N.P., while at Key West on the 19th day of August, A.D., 1907, in the District Court of the United States, Southern District of Florida, made his Declaration of Intention to become a citizen of the United States, as appears from the original Declaration of Intention number eleven, records of said Court.
I further certify that said Leon Walton Young has not filed his Petition or been admitted to Citizenship at Key West in the said Southern District of Florida.
In Witness thereof I hereunder set my hand and the Seal of the District Court of the United States, at Key West, this the 24th day of March A.D., 1915.
E.D. DODGE, Clerk
By W.H. Dodge Jr. Deputy Clerk.
British Vice Consulate,
Key West, Florida.
I, William J.H. Taylor, Esqr., British Vice Consul, do hereby certify that W.H. Dodge, Jr., Esqr., whose true signature and seal are respectively subscribed and affixed to the Certificate hereunto annexed, was, on the day of the date hereof, a Deputy Clerk of the District Court of the United States, in and for the Southern District of Florida, dwelling in the city of Key West, duly commissioned and sworn, to whose official Acts faith and credit are due, I further Certify that E.D. Dodge, was, on the day of the date hereof, the Clerk of the said Court, and the seal attached to said certificate is the seal of the said Court.
In WITNESS Whereof, I do hereunto set my seal of Office at Key West, this the twenty fourth day of March, in the year of our Lord, one thousand nine hundred and fifteen.
W . J. H TAYLOR
British Vice Consul.
Colonial Secretary’s Office
7th April, 1915
In continuation of my letter of the 2nd ultimo I am directed by His Excellency the Administrator to state that, at the request of the Government, the American Consul wrote to the Judge of the Court at Key West asking whether Mr. Walton Young took further action to procure American nationality. No reply has yet been received but Mr. Young himself informed the Consul that he had done nothing further than taking out the first papers and never completed the matter, and that he is not an American citizen.
2. In these circumstances, there seems little use in communicating with the British Consuls at Key West, Tampa and Washington, as suggested in your letter of the 26th of February. His Excellencey will however do if your Committee still so desire.
Your obedient servant,
T. E. D. BRACE
Acting Colonial Secretary.
Addressed to George Weech, Esquire,