History of the United States House of Representatives

Last updated
George W. Bush delivered his annual State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on January 28, 2003, in the House chamber. G.W. Bush delivers State of the Union Address.jpg
George W. Bush delivered his annual State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on January 28, 2003, in the House chamber.

The United States House of Representatives, commonly known as the lower chamber of the United States Congress, along with the United States Senate, commonly known as the upper chamber, are the two parts of the legislative branch of the federal government of the United States. Like its counterpart, the House was established by the United States Constitution and convened for its first meeting on March 4, 1789 at Federal Hall in New York City. The history of this institution begins several years prior to that date, at the dawn of the American Revolutionary War.

Contents

The Continental Congresses

The First Continental Congress was a meeting of representatives of twelve of Great Britain's seventeen North American colonies, in the autumn of 1774. The Continental Congress sent a list of grievances to King George III. When the King failed to respond, and the American Revolutionary War began in April 1775, the Second Continental Congress was convenedthis time with thirteen colonies in attendance. A year later, on 4 July 1776, the Continental Congress declared the thirteen colonies free and independent states, referring to them as the "united States of America." This was not a formal name, however, so "united" was not capitalized in the Declaration of Independence, "States" being capitalized only because all nouns were capitalized in English before the Industrial Revolution. The Second Continental Congress continued in office while the War for Independence continued, producing the Articles of Confederation— the country's first constitution— in 1777, which was ratified by all of the states by 1781.

Articles of Confederation and new Constitution

Under the Articles of Confederation, the Congress of the Confederation was a unicameral body in which each state was equally represented, and in which each state had a veto over most action. States could, and did, ignore what did pass. The ineffectiveness of the federal government under the Articles led Congress to summon the Convention of 1787.

One of the most divisive issues facing the Convention was the structure of Congress. James Madison's Virginia Plan called for a bicameral Congress; the lower house would be elected directly by the people, and the upper house would be elected by the lower house. The plan drew the support of delegates from large states such as Virginia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, as it called for representation based on population. The smaller states, however, favored the New Jersey Plan, which called for a unicameral Congress with equal representation for the states. Eventually, a compromise, known as the Connecticut Compromise or the Great Compromise was reached; one house of Congress (the House of Representatives) would provide proportional representation, whereas the other (the Senate) would provide equal representation. The Constitution was ratified by the end of 1788, and its full implementation was set for March 4, 1789.

18th century

The House of Representatives began work on April 1, 1789, when it achieved a quorum for the first time, [1] with 59 members elected from 11 states. In 1790, North Carolina and Rhode Island elected representatives (see: 1788 and 1789 United States House of Representatives elections), bringing the total count of representatives to 65. [2] [3] [4]

In the 1st United States Congress, Frederick Muhlenberg, a Pennsylvania Lutheran minister and politician, was the first Speaker of the House.

19th century

The early 19th century was marked by the assertion of Congress' gradual independence from the Presidency starting from the presidency of James Madison and onward. The House became the preeminent institution in Congress, originally overshadowing the Senate. For most of the first half of the 19th century, a balance between the free North and the slaveholding South existed in the Senate, as the numbers of free and slave states were equal. However, since the North was much more populous than the South, it dominated the House of Representatives. In 1825, new Speaker of the House Henry Clay also officially announced that he and his followers would separate from Andrew Jackson and form the National Republican Party. Clay lost to Jackson in the 1832 presidential election and moved to the Senate.

Historical graph of party control of the Senate and House as well as the Presidency Combined--Control of the U.S. House of Representatives - Control of the U.S. Senate.png
Historical graph of party control of the Senate and House as well as the Presidency

[5]

During the Civil War, the key policy-maker in Congress was Thaddeus Stevens, as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and as Republican floor leader. He took charge of major legislation that funded the war effort and revolutionized the nation's economic policies regarding tariffs, bonds, income and excise taxes, national banks, suppression of money issued by state banks, greenback currency, and western railroad land grants. [6]

Stevens was also one of the major policymakers regarding Reconstruction, and obtained a House vote of impeachment against President Andrew Johnson (who was acquitted by the Senate in 1868). Hans Trefousse, his leading biographer, concludes that Stevens "was one of the most influential representatives ever to serve in Congress. [He dominated] the House with his wit, knowledge of parliamentary law, and sheer willpower, even though he was often unable to prevail." [7] Historiographical views of Stevens have dramatically shifted over the years, from the early 20th-century view of Stevens and the Radical Republicans as tools of big business and motivated by hatred of the white South, to the perspective of the neoabolitionists of the 1950s and afterwards, who applauded their efforts to give equal rights to the freed slaves.

The Democrats were a weak minority from 1861 to 1874, then made a major comeback in 1874 by winning 93 seats held by the GOP and becoming the majority. The Gilded Age was marked by close balances in the House, with the parties alternating control.

Between 1860 and 1920 the average tenure of House members doubled from four to eight years. This number reflects the growth of "congressional careerism." The House began to develop a more stable culture, sessions of the House became longer, and members of the House began to specialize in specific areas of policy. Power was decentralized from the Speaker of the House, and seniority nearly assured advancement within the House. The increasing importance of the federal government, an increasing acceptance of lengthy congressional service, and (after 1896) a decline in the partisan competitiveness of congressional districts all contributed to the growing length of the average term of House members. [8]

20th and 21st-centuries

House of Representatives 1900-48 US house membership 1900-1948.gif
House of Representatives 1900-48

The early 20th century witnessed the rise of party leadership in both houses of Congress. In the House of Representatives, the office of Speaker became extremely powerful, reaching its zenith under the Republican Joseph Gurney Cannon. In particular, committee chairmen remained particularly strong in both houses until the rules reforms of the 1970s.

On November 7, 1916, Jeannette Rankin was elected to Montana's at-large seat in the House of Representatives, becoming the first female member of Congress. [9] In 1973 Speaker of the House Carl Albert appointed Felda Looper as the first female page in the House of Representatives. [10]

After the beginning of the Great Depression and the New Deal, the Democrats controlled the House from 1931 to 1994, with two exceptions (1946 and 1952), as the New Deal Coalition was successful. In terms of legislation, however, the Conservative coalition usually blocked liberal legislative proposals, except in 1964-65 when President Lyndon Johnson had the majorities to pass his Great Society proposals. The most important leader was long-time Democratic Speaker Sam Rayburn. The Republicans under Newt Gingrich returned to a majority in the election of 1994, as part of the Republican Revolution that gave the party both houses and a majority of governorships that year.

The Democrats gained 30 seats in the 2006 elections, regaining control and electing Nancy Pelosi as the first female Speaker. They strengthened their control during the 2008 elections, gaining an additional 21 seats. However, the Republicans soon erased those gains after gaining 63 seats in the 2010 elections, the largest seat change for any election since 1948. Republican control of the house remained until the 2018 elections.

Number of Representatives

Size of House of Representatives 1789-2009 Size of house of representatives.png
Size of House of Representatives 1789-2009
The 435 seats of the House grouped by state HouseDelegations2013-23.svg
The 435 seats of the House grouped by state

Congress has the power to regulate the size of the House of Representatives, and the size of the House has varied through the years in response to the admission of new states, reapportionment following a census, and the Civil War. [11]

Year17891791179318031813181518171819182118331835184318451847185118531857
Representatives6569105141182183185187213240242223225227233234237
Year1861186318651867186918731883188918911893190119111913195919611963
Representatives178183191193243293325330333357386391435436437435

In 1911, Congress passed the Apportionment Act of 1911, also known as 'Public Law 62-5', which capped the size of the United States House of Representatives at 435 seats. [12] [13] Arizona, New Mexico, Alaska, and Hawaii were each granted one representative when they first entered the union. During the next reapportionment, the size of the House was again limited to 435 seats, with the seats divided among the states by population, with each state getting at least one seat.

By the 2000s, the U.S. population had more than tripled since the 1911 expansion of the House to its current 435 seats; accordingly, proposals began to be made by commentators such as George F. Will, Robert Novak, and Paul Jacob to further increase the size of the House. [14] One such proposal, the Wyoming Rule, calls for adding enough members to Congress to reduce the population of the average Congressional district to the population of the least populous state's smallest district; in 1990, this would have resulted in a total House size of 547.

Related Research Articles

United States Congress Legislature of the United States

The United States Congress or U.S. Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States and consists of two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. Both senators and representatives are chosen through direct election, though vacancies in the Senate may be filled by a governor's appointment. Congress has 535 voting members: 100 senators and 435 representatives, the latter defined by the Reapportionment Act of 1929. In addition, the House of Representatives has six non-voting members, bringing the total membership of the US Congress to 541 or fewer in the case of vacancies.

Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Presiding officer of the United States House of Representatives

The speaker of the United States House of Representatives is the presiding officer of the United States House of Representatives. The office was established in 1789 by Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. The speaker is the political and parliamentary leader of the House of Representatives, and is simultaneously the House's presiding officer, de facto leader of the body's majority party, and the institution's administrative head. Speakers also perform various other administrative and procedural functions. Given these several roles and responsibilities, the speaker usually does not personally preside over debates. That duty is instead delegated to members of the House from the majority party. Neither does the speaker regularly participate in floor debates.

Newt Gingrich 50th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives

Newton Leroy "Newt" Gingrich is an American politician and author who served as the 50th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999. A member of the Republican Party, he was the U.S. Representative for Georgia's 6th congressional district serving north Atlanta and nearby areas from 1979 until his resignation in 1999. In 2012, Gingrich unsuccessfully ran for the Republican nomination for President of the United States.

Republican Revolution

The Republican Revolution, Revolution of '94, or Gingrich Revolution, refers to the Republican Party (GOP) success in the 1994 U.S. midterm elections, which resulted in a net gain of 54 seats in the House of Representatives, and a pickup of eight seats in the Senate. On November 9, 1994, the day after the election, Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, a conservative Democrat, changed parties, becoming a Republican; on March 3, 1995, Colorado Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell switched to the Republican side as well, increasing the GOP Senate majority.

Jim Wright American politician

James Claude Wright Jr. was an American politician who served as the 48th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1987 to 1989. He represented Texas's 12th congressional district as a Democrat from 1955 to 1989.

1994 United States House of Representatives elections House elections for the 104th U.S. Congress

The 1994 United States House of Representatives elections were held on November 8, 1994, in the middle of President Bill Clinton's first term. As a result of a 54-seat swing in membership from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party, Republicans gained a majority of seats in the United States House of Representatives for the first time since 1952. It was also the largest seat gain for the party since 1946, and the largest for either party since 1948, and characterized a political realignment in American politics.

37th United States Congress

The 37th United States Congress was a meeting of the legislative branch of the United States federal government, consisting of the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives. It met in Washington, D.C. from March 4, 1861, to March 4, 1863, during the first two years of Abraham Lincoln's presidency. The apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives was based on the Seventh Census of the United States in 1850. Both chambers had a Republican majority.

54th United States Congress

The 54th United States Congress was a meeting of the legislative branch of the United States federal government, consisting of the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives. It met in Washington, D.C. from March 4, 1895, to March 4, 1897, during the last two years of Grover Cleveland's presidency. The apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives was based on the Eleventh Census of the United States in 1890. The House had a Republican majority, and the Republicans were the largest party in the Senate.

Georgias 6th congressional district

Georgia's 6th congressional district is a congressional district in the U.S. state of Georgia. As of 2020, it is represented by Democrat Lucy McBath. The Georgia 6th district's boundaries have been redrawn following the 2010 census, which granted an additional congressional seat to Georgia. The first election using the new district boundaries was the 2012 congressional elections.

Randy Evans

James Randolph Evans is currently the United States Ambassador to Luxembourg. He presented credentials June 19, 2018. He is an American lawyer and Republican Party activist from Georgia who specializes in professional, legal, and government ethics. Evans remains a partner and serves on the U.S. board of directors at Dentons, the largest law firm in the world. He was selected by President Donald Trump to become the next United States Ambassador to Luxembourg. This nomination was submitted to the Senate on September 28, 2017 and was confirmed on May 24, 2018.

United States House of Representatives Lower house of the United States Congress

The United States House of Representatives is the lower house of the United States Congress, with the Senate being the upper house. Together they compose the national bicameral legislature of the United States.

1998 United States elections

The 1998 United States elections were held on November 3, 1998 in the middle of Democratic President Bill Clinton's second term. Though Republicans retained control of both chambers of Congress, the elections were unusual in that the president's party gained seats in the House of Representatives.

1994 United States elections

The 1994 United States elections were held on November 8, 1994. The elections occurred in the middle of Democratic President Bill Clinton's first term in office, and elected the members of 104th United States Congress. The elections have been described as the "Republican Revolution" because the Republican Party captured unified control of Congress for the first time since 1952. Republicans picked up eight seats in the Senate and won a net of 54 seats in the House of Representatives. Republicans also picked up a net of ten governorships and took control of many state legislative chambers.

History of the United States Congress

The history of the United States Congress refers to the chronological record of the United States Congress including legislative sessions from 1789 to the present day. It also includes a brief history of the Continental Congress from 1774 through 1781 and the Congress of the Confederation from 1781-1789.

The United States federal government shutdowns of 1995 and 1995–96 were the result of conflicts between Democratic President Bill Clinton and the Republican Congress over funding for education, the environment, and public health in the 1996 federal budget. The shutdowns lasted from November 14 through November 19, 1995, and from December 16, 1995, to January 6, 1996, for 5 and 21 days, respectively.

1828 United States elections

The 1828 United States elections elected the members of the 21st United States Congress. It marked the beginning of the Second Party System, and the definitive split of the Democratic-Republican Party into the Democratic Party and the National Republican Party. While the Democrats cultivated strong local organizations, the National Republicans relied on a clear national platform of high tariffs and internal improvements. Political scientists such as V.O. Key, Jr. consider this election to be a realigning election, while political scientists such as James Reichley instead see the election as a continuation of the Democratic-Republican tradition. Additionally, this election saw the Anti-Masonic Party win a small number of seats in the House, becoming the first third party to gain representation in Congress.

1858 United States elections

The 1858 United States elections occurred in the middle of Democratic President James Buchanan's term, during the opening stages of the Third Party System. Members of the 36th United States Congress were chosen in this election. In the first election since the Supreme Court decided Dred Scott v. Sandford, the Republican Party won a plurality in the House, taking control of a chamber of Congress for the first time in the party's history. Although Democrats lost control of the House, they retained their majority in the Senate.

1862 United States elections

The 1862 United States elections occurred in the middle of Republican President Abraham Lincoln's first term, during the Third Party System and the Civil War. Members of the 38th United States Congress were chosen in this election. West Virginia and Nevada joined the union during the 38th Congress, but several states were in rebellion, reducing the size of both chambers of Congress. The Republican Party kept control of Congress, although it was reduced to a plurality in the House.

1999 Georgias 6th congressional district special election

A special election to determine the member of the United States House of Representatives for Georgia's 6th congressional district was held on February 23, 1999. The seat was previously held by Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who resigned after facing a revolt in the Republican caucus after the Republicans lost four seats in the 1998 midterm elections. Since Johnny Isakson received over 50% of the vote, no runoff was held. He would later be elected to the United States Senate.

References

  1. United States House of Representatives
  2. Lampi, Philip. "House of Representatives, 1787-1789". Tufts Digital Library, Tufts University.
  3. Bickford, Charlene Bangs, and Bowling, Kenneth R., Birth of the nation: the First Federal Congress, 1789-1791 (Rowman & Littlefield, 1989)
  4. Christman, Margaret C.S., The First Federal Congress, 1789-1791 (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989.)
  5. "Party In Power - Congress and Presidency - A Visual Guide To The Balance of Power In Congress, 1945-2008". Uspolitics.about.com. Archived from the original on November 1, 2012. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  6. Heather Cox Richardson (1997). The Greatest Nation of the Earth: Republican Economic Policies During the Civil War. Harvard University Press. pp. 9, 41, 52, 111, 116, 120, 182, 202.
  7. Hans L. Trefousse (1991). Historical Dictionary of Reconstruction. Greenwood. p. 214.
  8. Kernell, Samuel (Nov 1977). "Toward Understanding 19th Century Congressional Careers: Ambition, Competition, and Rotation". American Journal of Political Science. 21 (4): 669–693. doi:10.2307/2110731. JSTOR   2110731.
  9. "Jeannette Rankin". Women In Congress. Archived from the original on November 3, 2010. Retrieved January 10, 2013.
  10. "Lincoln Evening Journal from Lincoln, Nebraska · Page 103". Newspapers.com. 1973-06-17. Archived from the original on 2015-02-15. Retrieved 2015-02-15.
  11. Galloway, George B.; Sidney Wise (1976). History of the House of Representatives . Crowell. ISBN   0-690-01101-6.
  12. Pub.L.   62–5, 37  Stat.   13
  13. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2011-08-13. Retrieved 2011-09-12.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. America has outgrown the House of Representatives Archived 2008-02-07 at the Wayback Machine , Matthew Cossolotto, November 21, 2001.

Further reading

See also