*Party division totals are based on election day results.
Slavery was never more politically divisive than during the 36th Congress (1859–1861), and Democrats could do little to bridge the widening sectional gap in their party. It took 44 ballots before New Jersey’s William Pennington won election as House Speaker. Both the House and Senate investigated John Brown’s failed 1859 raid the arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), and tried unsuccessfully to pass compromise legislation before the country erupted in civil war. Amid a tense lame-duck session in the winter of 1860–1861, southern states, led by South Carolina, began seceding from the Union.
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To view complete lists of individuals who have served in these leadership and official positions since the 1st Congress, visit the People section
1Elected February 3, 1860.
2Elected February 3, 1860.
3From 1855 to 1861 the local clergy in the District of Columbia conducted the opening prayer. Thereafter, the House has elected a Chaplain at the beginning of each Congress.