Historical Highlights

The Historic 54th Congress

December 02, 1895
The Historic 54th Congress Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Thomas Brackett Reed of Maine was re-elected to his second term as Speaker of the House in 1895.
On this date, the 54th Congress (1895–1897) convened a little more than a year after what proved to be a historic midterm election. Voters decimated the rolls of the House Democrats, who held a nearly 100-seat majority in the 53rd Congress (1893–1895); the party lost 116 seats or 32 percent of the total House membership. Bolstered by a record-setting freshman class of 176 total first-term Members, the Republicans picked up 120 seats (34 percent). The GOP swept through the South, Midwest, and West. Populists and Republicans also made inroads in the mostly Democratic border states in the South. Twenty-four states failed to elect a single Democrat, with another six only electing one. Voters had vented their frustrations with an economic depression, set off by a financial panic in 1893 as overextended railroad companies collapsed into bankruptcy. Republicans ran a savvy campaign, blaming the Democratic administration of President Grover Cleveland. “It was the greatest slaughter of innocents since the days of King Herod,” one of the Democratic casualties, Representative (and future Speaker of the House) James Beauchamp “Champ” Clark of Missouri, would later recall. The record-breaking Congress’s makeup was not complete on opening day; the largest recorded number of contested elections—at a total of 38 cases—swamped the three committees responsible for arbitrating them, with many remaining undecided more than two years after the election. In addition, as a result of the impressive turnover, a large number of second-term committee chairmen took power, with 23 sophomore chairs heading up the House’s 57 standing and select committees. Having served as Speaker for a single term in the 51st Congress (1889–1891), Maine Representative Thomas Brackett Reed once again took up the gavel, concluding in his first address to his colleagues, “Those who have acted with wisdom heretofore may be fairly expected to act with wisdom hereafter.” The Republican 1894 victory began the longest stretch of GOP majorities since the party’s founding in the late 1850s. The House remained under Republican control until the 62nd Congress (1911–1913).

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