Whereas: Stories from the People’s House

Edition for Educators—Presidency and the House

President Carter's 1980 State of the Union/tiles/non-collection/9/9-5-CarterSOTU-PA2017_09_0033.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives President Jimmy Carter delivers the State of the Union in 1980, flanked by Vice President Walter Mondale and Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill.
On March 4, 1809, James Madison was sworn in as the fourth President of the United States, taking over the White House from his friend, the outgoing President Thomas Jefferson. Two Founding Fathers had much in common: both had served in the Continental Congress from Virginia and both had, at one time or another, served as Secretary of State. But unlike Jefferson, Madison had an additional, perhaps even more important line on his resume: he was the first President to have served in the House of Representatives. (George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson all served in the Continental Congress.)

Madison spent four terms in the House (1789–1797), representing a district that encompassed his Montpelier plantation in Orange County, Virginia. In Congress, Madison—well known as the “Father of the Constitution”—introduced a list of amendments that, once ratified, became the Bill of Rights.

Madison may have been the first Member to become President, but he was not the last. In fact, 19 Members (including Madison) have served as President, meaning a full 42 percent of all U.S. Presidents had House experience at some point. Remarkably, John Quincy Adams is the only person to have served in the House after serving as President.

As co-equal branches of the federal government, Congress and the President interact in myriad ways while debating policy and crafting and finalizing legislation. An untold number of variables influence the unique relationship that stretches from Capitol Hill to the White House down Pennsylvania Avenue: party divisions in the House, the ideological diversity of the House, the political philosophy of House leadership, and the pressing needs of the nation to name just a few. This relationship can be constructive, when Representatives work alongside the President on a stated agenda. Or it can be adversarial, when the President uses a veto to stymie Congress, or when Congress puts together enough votes to override a veto.

The House of Representatives, of course, has special status when it comes to matters of the presidency. The House is responsible for electing the President in the event that no candidate wins a majority of the Electoral College, as happened in 1800 and 1824. The House also has distinct oversight responsibilities, including the power of impeachment. Since the early 20th century, Presidents have delivered their Annual Messages to a Joint Session of Congress in the large House Chamber.

President Eisenhower/tiles/non-collection/9/9-5-Eisenhower-Baseball-PA2016_09_0001.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives President Dwight Eisenhower chats with Republican team manager C. W. Bishop and Democratic team manager Sid Herlong before the 1953 Congressional Baseball Game.

Featured Institutional Information

Presidents, Vice Presidents, & Coinciding Sessions of Congress
This chart lists each Congress alongside the terms of each President and Vice President dating back to 1789. Following adoption of the 20th amendment to the Constitution in 1933, Opening Day for Congress was moved to January 3, and the starting date for the presidential term was set at January 20. Presidential terms since have overlapped with three Congresses rather than two.

Presidential Vetoes
Article I, section 7 of the Constitution grants the President the authority to veto legislation passed by Congress. This page explains the veto process and provides an accounting of each President’s vetoes and how many (if any) were overridden by Congress.

State of the Union Address
The formal basis for the State of the Union address is articulated in the U.S. Constitution. Earlier State of the Union addresses (also called Annual Messages) included agency budget requests and general reports on the health of the economy. During the 20th century, Congress began requiring more-specialized reports on the federal budget and the economy, separate from the State of the Union. Over time, the focus of the State of the Union has shifted to accommodate changing priorities in American society.

John Quincy Adams Memorial Ribbon/tiles/non-collection/9/9-5-AdamsMemorial-2015_018_000-3.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
John Quincy Adams, the House’s “Old Man Eloquent,” died in the Speaker’s Office, just steps from the House Chamber, in 1848. This memorial ribbon was sold in New York, far from Adams’ funeral in the U.S. Capitol.

Featured People

House Members Who Received Electoral College Votes
Since 1789, 89 Members of the U.S. House of Representatives have received at least one Electoral College vote for President or Vice President. These charts identify these individuals and the office they sought. While many House Members have organized presidential campaigns, either for a major party nomination or independently, these charts note only those Members whose candidacies led to Electoral College votes in the general election.

John Quincy Adams
Perhaps more than any other President, John Quincy Adams had a lengthy and complicated relationship with the House of Representatives. The son of President John Adams, John Quincy Adams won the presidency in 1825 after the contest was decided in the House of Representatives. (Neither Adams nor his chief 1824 opponent, Andrew Jackson of Tennessee, had won a majority of the vote in the Electoral College.) The year after his presidency ended, Adams won election to the House of Representatives from Massachusetts in 1830. He remains the only person to have served in the House after serving as President. As a Representative, he developed a reputation as a fiery speaker for the cause of abolition. He collapsed at his desk in the House Chamber on February 21, 1848, was carried to the Speaker’s office, and died there two days later.

Featured Highlights

The First Congressional Override of a Presidential Veto
On March 3, 1845, in the waning hours of the 28th Congress (1843–1845), the House joined the Senate to pass Congress’s first presidential veto override (lame-duck President John Tyler had vetoed an appropriation bill). Introduced by Senator Jabez Huntington of Connecticut in January 1845, the original bill prohibited the President from authorizing the building of Revenue Marine Service (Coast Guard) ships without approved appropriations from Congress.

Democratic Candidate Woodrow Wilson and Congressmen/tiles/non-collection/9/9-5-Wilson-pa2013_03_0023.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Shortly after accepting the 1912 Democratic nomination for President, Woodrow Wilson invited more than 100 Members of Congress to his summer cottage in Sea Girt, New Jersey. Seated in the rocking chair at left, Wilson smiled at his visitors, including a scowling Speaker Champ Clark, who had lost the nomination to Wilson.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Fourth Inauguration
On January 20, 1945, the White House hosted President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fourth inauguration, a break with tradition in which inauguration ceremonies were customarily held at the U.S. Capitol. With the country still fighting World War II in Europe and in the Pacific, Roosevelt and the Joint Committee on the Inauguration chose to scale back the festivities for Roosevelt’s fourth ceremony in 12 years.

A Petition for a Presidential Impeachment
On July 22, 1842, the House of Representatives took its first formal action toward impeaching a president. Virginia Representative John Minor Botts presented a petition from citizens in Wetumpka, Alabama. The petitioners asked that a resolution be passed “requesting ‘John Tyler, the acting President of the United States,’ to resign his office; and in case he do not comply with such request, they pray that he may be impeached, on the grounds of his ignorance of the interest and true policy of this Government, and want of qualification for the discharge of the important duties of President of the United States.”

Representative Nicholas Longworth of Ohio Married Alice Roosevelt
Widely celebrated in the United States, the 1906 nuptials of Congressman Nicholas Longworth of Ohio and Alice Roosevelt, the daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, also captured international attention. Dignitaries and press from around the world attended the event. Nick Longworth, a lieutenant of the powerful House Speaker Joseph G. Cannon of Illinois, eventually rose to the Speakership in 1925 and served as a popular and influential presiding officer in his own right.

Featured Oral Histories

President Carter and Congress
The Honorable Beverly Barton Butcher Byron recollects a meeting at the White House with President Jimmy Carter.

The Honorable Beverly Barton Butcher Byron, U.S. Representative of Maryland Interview recorded June 15, 2016 Transcript (PDF)

Training a Future President
In this audio clip, Glenn Rupp, a former House page and doorkeeper, shares his memories of training future President Lyndon Baines Johnson during the 1930s.

Glenn Rupp, Page, U.S. House of Representatives Interview recorded April 27, 2005 Transcript (PDF)

Featured Objects from the House Collection

Abraham Lincoln
Ned Bittenger’s Abraham Lincoln portrait addresses the challenge of depicting a famous face at an almost unrecognizably young age. Working from photographs contemporaneous with Lincoln’s House service (1847–1849) as well as historic images of the Chamber, the artist compromised between perfect accuracy and depicting a man not too far removed from the well-known, craggy visage of President Lincoln.

Shirley Chisholm Campaign Poster
After taking her seat in 1969, Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman in Congress, continued to blaze new trails, running for president in 1972. Chisholm’s historic run—the first major presidential campaign by an African-American woman—brought attention to a central issue of her candidacy: the fact that other Democratic contenders failed to represent the interests of African Americans and the inner-city poor.

Articles of Impeachment/tiles/non-collection/9/9-5-Impeachment-2007_345_006.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Impeachment managers—including de facto Republican floor leader Thaddeus Stevens, standing at one end of the table, and Judiciary Committee Chairman James Wilson—are shown discussing articles of impeachment against Andrew Johnson in this page from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper.

Featured Records

Barbara Jordan on Nixon’s Articles of Impeachment
This partial transcript contains Congresswoman Barbara Jordan’s edited remarks from the Judiciary Committee’s debate on July 25, 1974, on whether to recommend that the House adopt articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon.

Featured Blogs

“The Only Thing You Could Hear Was People Crying”
“Where were you when President Kennedy was shot?” became a defining question for a generation of Americans stunned by the violent act which took the life of the 35th U.S. President. As the nation sought to come to terms with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Capitol prepared for a rare lying-in-state ceremony.

George Washington’s Bling
Like most gentlemen of the late 1700s, Washington wore his fob seals prominently. The tiny gold pendant, or fob, holds a piece of red carnelian stone with George Washington’s coat of arms and initials carved into it. This oldest object in the House Collection is also one of the smallest. It’s less than an inch across, but the man who owned it was a giant figure in American history.

A Message Too Far: The House Reprimands President Roosevelt
Laughter flooded the House Chamber, rising from both sides of the floor and cascading down from the crowded galleries. Atop the marble rostrum Speaker Joseph G. Cannon of Illinois, looking to regain order, banged his gavel so hard that he cracked the top of his desk. The cause of this ruckus stood frozen at the chamber’s entrance looking bewildered and embarrassed—a House Doorkeeper and a White House clerk who had just interrupted debate with an announcement from President Theodore Roosevelt.

This is part of a series of blog posts for educators highlighting the resources available on History, Art & Archives of the U.S. House of Representatives. For lesson plans, fact sheets, glossaries, and other materials for the classroom, see the website's Education section.