Finding research topics to inspire students competing in National History Day (NHD) can be challenging. To help start their projects, the History, Art & Archives team has listed a few topics that fit with this year’s theme: “Debate and Diplomacy: Success, Failures, and Consequences.” Use these resources—pulled from different sections of our website—to start on a new project.
Slavery, Abolition, & Reconstruction
Slavery and abolition often framed debate in the House before the Civil War. To appease proslavery legislators, the House imposed a “gag rule” in 1836 that restricted debate on abolition; it lasted until 1844. By the 1850s, debate over slavery occasionally turned violent on the floor of the House and Senate. With the dissolution of slavery after the Civil War, Congress worked to rebuild the country and pass laws to prohibit racial discrimination and guarantee civil rights and the right to vote.
Over the course of American history, the House has regularly debated issues concerning citizenship, civil and voting rights, equal protection, fair employment, housing, and racial discrimination. Laws passed after the Civil War and then in the second half of the twentieth century sought to combat inequality and injustice and guarantee equal opportunity.
In 1920, after more than a century of activism, women won the right the to vote with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. The House, led by Jeannette Rankin of Montana, had first passed the suffrage amendment in 1918. That bill died in the Senate, but in 1919 Congress quickly secured its passage. Despite its ratification, decades of discrimination continued to restrict who could exercise the right to vote.
With the rise of the temperance movement in the 1800s, the consumption of alcohol became a hotly debated topic in the United States. As the movement gained support on Capitol Hill, Congress passed the Eighteenth Amendment prohibiting “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors” in America. Despite the ratification of prohibition, debate continued until the amendment was repealed in 1933.
Equal Rights Amendment
The Equal Rights Amendment—a proposed constitutional amendment stating that men and women should have equal rights under the law—has inspired recurring debate in the House of Representatives since 1923.
War and Expansion
The United States has expanded its borders through both war and diplomacy. The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the acquisition of Alaska in 1867 brought new lands and people within America’s geopolitical footprint. Since 1789, Congress has also approved 11 declarations of war and debated and passed authorizations for the use of military force. Under the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which ended the War with Mexico in 1848, the U.S. acquired a swath of land that composed much of the modern-day American Southwest. At the turn of the twentieth century, America’s emerging role as a global power shaped debate in the House about the country’s overseas empire.
Behind every bill is hours of formal and informal debate worthy of a National History Day project. To access more resources about the House of Representatives, explore the following:
House History Bibliography
This bibliography is a compilation of both official House histories and scholarly analyses of the House of Representatives. While not an exhaustive list, it is meant to help researchers and students gain a detailed understanding of the institutional developments and personalities that have shaped the House.
Researching the House: Official Records
Examine the official records of Congress in person and online. Find out where records are located, how to digitally search and browse, and how to prepare for a research visit.
Researching the House: Other Primary Sources
Documents, images, and videos can help illustrate an event or provide a starting point for further research.
We hope this year's National History Day inspires you to research and learn more about history of the House of Representatives. Please reach out to email@example.com for additional guidance in your research.Follow @USHouseHistory