Whereas: Stories from the People’s House

Best of the Blog in 2018

The year 2018 wasn’t just about a midterm election for the Offices of History, Art & Archives. We introduced a lot of content throughout the year. The office debuted the final volume of the series on minority representation in May with the publishing of Asian and Pacific Islanders in Congress alongside an accompanying online exhibit and updated filters for the Collections Search. We also added a page on First-Term Members of the House of Representatives and updated our feature on Individuals Who Have Lain in State or in Honor. We also added 131 new objects to Collection Search. On the Education side of things, we’ve created a page just for students preparing for National History Day 2019. Our oral history team uploaded four new pages to the Century of Women in Congress exhibit, a new People page, a new Object page, 52 new clips and five full transcripts. And in August, we re-launched our blog with a new design and search function.

And finally this year, the office has published 43 blogs! Here are a few of our favorites from the past year.

No Woman Is an Island

The photograph on the East Front of the Capitol on March 20, 1918, straddled the seasons, winter in Washington yielding to a fresh spring. That day, roughly 260 House Members gathered in a circle two-deep on the plaza between the building’s grand center staircase and the Olmsted fountains. Leaf-bare but budding trees lined the grounds toward East Capitol Street. And the strengthening March sun, which warmed the city from the low 40s to a high of 71 that day, still hung low enough in the late morning sky to cause anyone facing the diffuse glow toward the southeast to squint.

The office continued to celebrate the career of the first Woman in Congress through an investigation of the circumstances behind this historic photograph.

Letter from Mr. and Mrs. H. Lee Sutton to Representative John H. Tolan

House Select Committee Investigates Japanese Evacuation and Relocation

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese military attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, pulling America into World War II. On February 13, 1942, referencing the presence of Japanese Americans and immigrants living on the West Coast, the congressional delegation from those states recommended to President Franklin D. Roosevelt that “the critical nature of the situation and its latent subversive potentialities are so compelling as to justify the taking of extreme and drastic measures.” They called for a policy that became one of the darkest chapters in American history: the forced imprisonment and internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans.

In the first of the three archives-focused blogs on this year’s list, we reflect on the historic Tolan Committee.

Group of Paiutes

Land of Misfortune: Sarah Winnemucca Petitions Congress

In 1884, Native American advocate, author, and educator Sarah Winnemucca sent a petition to Congress for the Paiute Indians to be restored to the Malheur Reservation in southern Oregon. Unlike many appeals addressed to Congress in the late 1800s, and particularly unlike those written by women, the tone of Winnemucca’s petition is one of righteous demand rather than supplication. Throughout her life, Winnemucca served in many roles, always compelled by her desire to champion her people. She argued that the suffering and injustice her people had endured could no longer be borne without the U.S. government taking measures that granted her tribe agency and allowed them to be self-sustaining.

Our second featured archival post features records of an inspiring activist’s testimony before Congress in 1884.

Wooden Sword, Spitting Lyon

For several weeks in early 1798 legislative business in the U.S. House of Representatives slowed to a crawl as the relatively young chamber grappled with a quandary both uncharted and unpleasant: whether and how to discipline its Members for unacceptable behavior.

A spat on the House Floor led to a question of expulsion and triggered reprinted accounts, drawings, and even song lyrics in newspapers across the new nation.

Luaus to Lusitania

On the near-cloudless Monday morning of May 3, 1915, the steamer Sierra floated on an untroubled sea off the coast of Honolulu, the lush capital of the Territory of Hawaii. On deck, 125 people outfitted in white linen suits and dresses—among them 48 Members of Congress—polished off breakfast and prepared to disembark for what most hoped would be a tropical vacation. Their welcoming committee had planned a three-week tour of the Hawaiian Islands for the Members with the hope of securing from Congress various economic concessions for their territory. Only five days later, however, the RMS Lusitania, a separate ocean liner sailing in contested waters half a world away, was torpedoed by a German U-boat. In the wake of the attack, Congress turned away from the Pacific and towards the explosive crisis in the North Atlantic.

In the midst of luaus, the threat of global conflict—and America’s entry into World War I—had come to Congress’s doorstep.

“I Ask Nothing Because I am a Negro”: A Letter to the Committee on Military Affairs

By age 26, Henry Ossian Flipper’s place in history was already assured. In 1877, he became the first African American to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point, where his race was a fact his fellow students never let him forget. As the first African-American commissioned officer in the U.S. Army, Flipper eventually commanded the Buffalo Soldiers, African-American cavalry who previously had only ever been led by white officers. But a terrible twist in his story forced Flipper to seek the assistance of the House of Representatives in resolving charges against him that cut short his promising start.

The final archival records post featured in this line-up highlights the long story of Henry Flipper that led to his posthumous pardon in 1999.

“Planting Laws and Institutions”: The Election of Representative John Quincy Adams

On November 6, 1830, former United States President John Quincy Adams spent the day at his family’s farm near Quincy, Massachusetts, planting trees. On the edge of what would become the orchard, he laid out five rows of chestnuts, oaks, and shagbark hickories. Adams ate lunch at home and went back to the farm “to lay out the ground for the Orchard,” all the while debating what else he would plant there. Toward the end of the day he read the evening newspapers and nonchalantly noted in his diary that the news had “brought the last returns of the Congressional Election for the District of Plymouth. Twenty-two Towns gave 2565 votes, of which 1817 were for John Quincy Adams, 373 for Arad Thompson (Jacksonite), 279 for William Baylies (federal), and 96 scattering votes.”

The final line in Adams’s diary that day: “I am a member elect of the twenty-second Congress.”

Hannah, Apple Seller in the Capitol

Arcaded Street

You could buy a coffin, a deer skin, or a slice of pie as you strolled the Capitol 150 years ago. “It is a grand, vaulted, arcaded street,” one visitor enthused, “and during the session filled with a jostling, hurrying throng.” Tourists bought guidebooks. Business visitors snapped up seating charts to identify Representatives at their House Chamber desks. Members of Congress grabbed a quick lunch. Reporters filed stories and bet on horses at the telegraph stand. And the young Pages bought doughnuts, cookies, and every kind of sweet they could get their hands on.

Our top 2018 blog presents the ultimate tourists’ Capitol of the 1800s.

Stay tuned in 2019 for the final days of John Quincy Adams, a look at the office lottery over time, a celebration of Shirley Chisholm, an investigation into the youngest Members of Congress, and more.

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