Whereas: Stories from the People’s House

Best of the Blog in 2020

This year, the Office of the Historian and the Office of Art and Archives published 44 blog posts on a range of topics, including congressional nicknames, stamp collecting, the apportionment process, and the 1870 election of Joseph Hayne Rainey, the first Black Member of the House of Representatives.

As we reflect on a tumultuous and difficult year, we’ve selected eight of our favorite and most discussed posts for readers to revisit.

“Catalyst for Change”: The 1972 Presidential Campaign of Representative Shirley Chisholm

Since its first publication in 1951, Jet magazine had been on the forefront covering news and issues important to its African-American readership. Widely popular for its commentary on politics, culture, and the lives of everyday people, Jet posed a question in June 1971 that would soon prove prophetic: “Should a Black Politician Run for President?”

Follow the pioneering presidential campaign of New York Representative Shirley Chisholm.

Fighting the Filibuster

Wednesday, January 3, 1810, seemed like a day that would never end in the House of Representatives. Facing a resolution he viewed as detrimental to his district, New York Representative Barent Gardenier started talking. Soon enough, Gardenier’s bleary-eyed colleagues learned a sobering lesson: if a Member started speaking, there was no way to stop him.

Later made famous by the Senate, the tactic of filibustering—speaking long enough to derail a bill’s consideration—faced an early challenge in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Detail of the Tunnel in an Architectural Plan

Notes from Underground, Part I: The Book Tunnel

For more than a century, a tunnel ran between the Capitol and the Library of Congress, what is now known as the Thomas Jefferson Building. Using iron rails, electricity, and an endless cable, the underground shaft automatically shuttled books to Members of Congress. “There is nothing like it in this country or, so far as known, in any other,” the Washington Post told readers in 1895.

The first entry in this two-part series on the labyrinthine complex under the Capitol will interest any bibliophile.

Bud Shuster and Jack Schenendorf Riding the Rayburn Subway

Notes from Underground, Part II: The Rayburn Subway

As architects planned the first House and Senate Office Buildings in the early 1900s, newspapers crowed about one exciting amenity. Senators and Representatives would be able to hop on underground trains and ride from their new buildings to the Capitol. But when the dust settled after construction, only the Senate had a subway line. Representatives had to wait—and walk—until the Rayburn House Office Building opened in 1965.

You don’t want to miss this train; catch the second part of this series on the tunnels under the Capitol complex.

The Apportionment Act of 1842: Legal, When Convenient

The debate in Congress over the Apportionment Act of 1842 had been brutal, and foes of the bill remained steadfast in their opposition. For 18 months, from President John Tyler’s signing statement in the summer of 1842 to the opening of the 28th Congress (1843–1845) in December 1843, the question lingered: Was the Apportionment Act law or merely a suggestion?

In this history of the fallout of the 1842 law, a polarized Congress grapples with the relationship between the states and the federal government.

How the House Almost Added a 13th Month

On February 9, 1922, the House Judiciary Committee held a brief hearing on a long subject: the passage of time, and how America kept track of it. Specifically, the committee met to hear from a handful of witnesses about a bill that would have created the “Liberty Calendar,” a uniform new annual calendar—13 months of 28 days divided evenly into four weeks—that supporters argued would make timekeeping more efficient and help meet the demands of the twentieth century.

While not quite fulfilling the universal wish for more time, this unusual proposal certainly offered better organized time.

Congress and the Case of the Faithless Elector

On January 6, 1969, Representative James O’Hara of Michigan took a seat on the House Floor for what seemed like a routine day of business. Since the late nineteenth century, the Electoral College count had occurred every four years without incident. This year, however, would be different. It was the first time in American history that a Member of Congress filed a formal objection during the count of the Electoral College.

The Electoral College and Congress meet in this history of the role of the legislative branch during presidential elections.

“I’m Not Going to Waste It”

From February 1959 to June 1961, James Johnson attended the Capitol Page School, a one-of-a-kind learning environment for high schoolers working for the House, Senate, and Supreme Court. Johnson was one of the first African-American students admitted to the school, but because of a mix-up—the details of which remain unclear even today—he never received an official appointment as a Page like the rest of his classmates. But Johnson credits his experience at the Page School and working for the House for setting him on the path to a distinguished medical career with the U.S. Navy.

In his Oral History, Rear Admiral Johnson recounts his time on Capitol Hill and the ways it prepared him for success.

Come back in 2021 for a look at Opening Days past, a jazz star confronting racism and HUAC, tales of a beloved Doorkeeper, and the further trials of Pete Seeger.

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