The Imperial Congress

An impetuous and sometimes corrupt Congress has often hamstrung the efforts of the president since the earliest days of the Republic

On a little-remarked, steamy day in late June 1973, a revolution took place in Washington, D.C., one that would transfer far more power and wealth than did the revolt against King George III in 1776. On the 29th, a sweaty, angry majority of the House of Representatives and the Senate defied the president of the United States and voted to end armed American involvement in Vietnam. Read more »

The Electoral College: How It Got That Way and Why We're Stuck With It

It was never designed to actually elect a President, it’s awkward, cumbersome, and confusing, and almost no one likes it. Americans have been trying to get rid of it for more than two centuries. Yet it’s still here. Now we are seeing renewed efforts to reform or eliminate the Electoral College. Will they succeed? Don’t bet on it.

So it has happened again. A close presidential election has led to recriminations, cries of fraud, and talk of tainted mandates. Just as predictably, the 2000 election has inspired calls to reform the Electoral College—predictably, that is, because such proposals have followed every close presidential contest since the beginning of the Republic. The only difference is that this time no one asked why there’s such a long delay between election and inauguration.

A Few Parchment Pages Two Hundred Years Later

The framers of the Constitution were proud of what they had done but might be astonished that their words still carry so much weight. A distinguished scholar tells us how the great charter has survived and flourished.

The American Constitution has functioned and endured longer than any other written constitution of the modern era. It imbues the nation with energy to act while restraining its agents from acting improperly. It safeguards our liberties and establishes a government of laws, not of men and women. Above all, the Constitution is the mortar that binds the fifty-state edifice under the concept of federalism; it is the symbol that unifies nearly 250 million people of different origins, races, and religions into a single nation. Read more »

“the House Shall Chuse Their Speaker…”

And in doing so, the fate of Congress—will it be weak? will it be strong?—is determined

In December, 1847, after Robert C. Winthrop of Massachusetts had won election as Speaker of the House of Representatives, three of the nation’s most remarkable political leaders stopped by to offer advice. Winthrop, a graduate of Harvard College and scion of one of the country’s most distinguished families, was already a veteran of several Congresses and hardly the kind of man who would seek advice. The office he now held, however, was of immense importance. On him, in part, rested the fate of representative government in the United States.

 
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Congress

 

In recent years the Congress of the United States has seemed to be the least vital element in the federal system. It has stood well back in the shadow of the Presidency and the Supreme Court, apparently without initiative or nerve, content to follow rather than lead. Yet it possesses extraordinary powers, which must be vigorously applied if the system of checks and balances on which this nation’s government is based is to be effectively maintained.

 

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The Untold Delights Of Duluth

A few dazzling words about that emerging metropolis, delivered in 1871 by Congressman J. Proctor Knott. Edited for 1971 visitors by David G. McCullough

On January 27, 1871, a forty-year-old congressman from Kentucky sought recognition on the floor of the United States House of Representatives. Upon being recognized by the Speaker, the Honorable James G. Blame, the congressman expressed dissatisfaction with the amount of time he had been allotted on past occasions and so requested, and was granted, one full, uninterrupted half hour to speak his mind. The congressman was a Democrat, an able lawyer, ambitious, learned in the classics, and generally well liked by his colleagues.Read more »

"Consensus Politics,” 1800–1805

The idea goes back to the very beginnings of our national history. Then as now, it was built upon human relationships, and these—as Mr. Jefferson found to his sorrow—make a fragile foundation.

We hear a great deal these days, during an intensely political Presidency, about “consensus politics,” but it is no novelty of modern times. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that Thomas Jefferson was its inventor and master practitioner. Time has all but canonized this Founding Father, so that few associate him with either guile, ruthlessness, or skill in political maneuver. Yet he had all three, and he knew how to use them.

Why They Impeached Andrew Johnson

One of the saddest tales in American history tells how a well-intentioned President lost a dazzling opportunity

Reconstruction after the Civil War posed some of the most discouraging problems ever faced by American statesmen. The South was prostrate. Its defeated armies straggled homeward through a countryside desolated by war. Southern soil was untilled and exhausted; southern factories and railroads were worn out.Read more »