Whereas: Stories from the People’s House

Edition for Educators—Elections and the House

Every four years, the nation’s attention turns to the presidential election. But that contest is only part of the story for the candidates who run every two years to fill 440 of the 441 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives—435 voting Members, and five territorial Delegates; Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner is elected to a four-year term. It is easy to forget, but for much of American history control of the U.S. House was far more consequential than control of the White House. This Edition for Educators highlights a few of the many campaign and election resources added to the History, Art & Archives website since our last edition in 2014.

Kentucky General Store/tiles/non-collection/1/10-26-election-ad-store-2008_236_000.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Kentucky Congressman Fred Vinson’s picture and pitch are tacked up on the porch of a country store, alongside ads for Beech-Nut Tobacco and improving lectures given by the visiting Chautauqua speakers.

Featured Publication

"Women Must Be Empowered": The U.S. House of Representatives and the Nineteenth Amendment
House Joint Resolution 1 was one of more than 1,200 pieces of legislation introduced on Opening Day of the 66th Congress (1919–1921), May 19, 1919. Most were mundane; H.J. Res. 1 was anything but. In this booklet (PDF), read the story of how the U.S. House of Representatives passed a proposed constitutional amendment that would eventually be ratified by the states as the Nineteenth Amendment.

Featured Institutional Information

Majority Changes in the House of Representatives, 1856 to Present
Since the start of the modern party system in the decade before the Civil War, the House has changed majorities during midterm elections slightly more than one-third of the time. This table lists each majority change since 1856.

Changes in State Delegation Party Majorities
Article I, Section II of the Constitution guarantees each state at least one Representative in the House, but state delegations can vary greatly in size. Delegation party majorities can prove crucial in the rare event that a presidential election is thrown to the U.S. House of Representatives when no candidate wins a majority of the Electoral College. This chart (PDF) provides the last time that each state’s House delegation had a Democratic majority and a Republican majority. It also lists the last time, if any, that a state’s House delegation was composed entirely of Members of one party.

Featured Oral Histories

Analyzing the Polls
Polling has become a crucial part of modern campaigns, as candidates listen to constituent concerns and shape their messages and platforms. Below, South Carolina Representative Elizabeth J. Patterson discusses how polls helped to show the role gender played in her first House campaign.

The Honorable Elizabeth J. Patterson, U.S. Representative of South Carolina Interview recorded April 3, 2017 Transcript (PDF)

“Dine with the Byrons”
Maryland Representative Beverly Barton Butcher Byron discusses the materials she used in her congressional campaigns, including a promotional pamphlet with Byron family recipes. The “Dine with the Byrons” campaign tradition started when her husband, Goodloe Byron, ran for the Maryland state house in the 1960s.

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

Find more oral history videos on elections and campaign objects in the new Oral History Search.

Featured Records

Election Credentials of Romualdo Pacheco
First elected to the House in 1876, Romualdo Pacheco of California was the first Hispanic-American Representative to serve in Congress. This certificate, signed by California Governor William Irwin on November 10, 1879, verified Pacheco’s second election to the House for the 46th Congress (1879–1881).

Suffrage for 18-Year-Olds
George M. Montross of Detroit sent this letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Emanuel Celler of New York to express his outrage over the decision to lower the voting age from 21 to 18. Congress originally expanded suffrage in an amendment to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but after multiple challenges to the provision, Congress scrambled to pass a constitutional amendment. The proposed Twenty-Sixth Amendment passed the House and Senate in the spring of 1971 and was ratified by the states on July 1, 1971.

Find more House Records on voting and elections.

Carry Bella Back to Congress/tiles/non-collection/1/10-26-bellabag-2018_182_000.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Colorful and controversial New York Representative Bella Abzug added a bag-appropriate pun to her re-election campaign shopping bag—“Carry Bella back to Congress”—alongside her usual slogan, “This woman’s place is in the House.”

Featured Objects from the House Collection

Albert David Baumhart Jr. Cigar Cutter
Midcentury campaigns dedicated considerable campaign resources to everyday objects. When considering the options for campaign giveaways, cigar accessories—like this cigar cutter handed out by Albert Baumhart Jr. of Ohio for one of his campaigns for Congress—had appeal in the smoke-filled twentieth century.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Campaign Mailer
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida became the first Latina in Congress when she won a special election following the death of longtime Representative Claude Pepper. She and many of the constituents in her Florida district were Cuban Americans, and she produced materials in both English and Spanish.

"My Government" Coloring Book
William H. Ayres of Ohio campaigned for office using unconventional tactics, including the distribution of personalized souvenirs emblazoned with Ayres's likeness or the slogan “Ayres cares.” This example, a didactic coloring book, tells the story of two children, whose questions about voting inspire the family to leave their 1960s split-level home for a trip to the nation's capital.

Check out more campaign objects and collectibles in the House Collection and read their stories in our blog!

Featured Educational Resources

National History Day – Elections
Each year, the offices of History, Art & Archives at the U.S. House of Representatives prepare a resource guide for students participating in National History Day. For the event in 2021, the theme of which is “Communication in History,” we have an entire section dedicated to related elections resources.

Edna Flannery Kelly Blotter/tiles/non-collection/1/10-26-kellyblotter-2005_180_000a.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
New York Representative Edna Kelly autographed this ink blotter in 1956. Before ballpoint pens, Americans used blotters to dry documents written with a fountain pen. The ubiquitous little cards of absorbent paper, attached to the back of campaign cards, were perfect for promoting a candidate’s platform.

Featured Blogs

Get Out the Vote
After months of political advertisements and debates, citizens turn out to elect their Representatives on Election Day. Incumbent and hopeful Members of Congress also show up at the polls in their home districts, casting a ballot (presumably) for themselves. Three photographs from the House Collection show past Representatives posing for a photo op in the act of voting.

They Gotta Quit Kickin' My Dawg Aroun'/tiles/non-collection/1/10-26-kickindawg-2016_141_000a-4.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
In 1912, presidential aspirant and Speaker Champ Clark adopted a folk tune from his home state of Missouri as a campaign anthem, even putting his adopted slogan on campaign buttons.
 “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?” Shirley Chisholm formally announced her candidacy for president in January 1972. Throughout the campaign, she dismissed criticism that her candidacy was self-serving or merely symbolic. “I am for real, and I am very serious about what I am doing,” Chisholm declared.

“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. Toward the end of the day Adams 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.” Adams’s casual mention of his victory downplayed what was otherwise a remarkable occasion: For the first time in American history, a former President had won election to the U.S. House of Representatives. Adams remains the only person to ever do so.

See more blogs on elections and the U.S. House of Representatives.

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.