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“The House of Representatives, in some respects, I think, is the most peculiar assemblage in the world,” Speaker Joe Cannon of Illinois once observed. Behind the legislation and procedure, House Members and staff have produced their own institutional history and heritage. Our blog, Whereas: Stories from the People’s House, tells their stories.

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Displaying 181–192 of 195 results

Edition for Educators – Congress in Wartime

The Constitution grants Congress the power to declare war and maintain and fund the armed forces. From the harrowing night in 1814 when war arrived on the Capitol’s doorstep to the war on terror, the House and its Members have been key players in wartime decisions.
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Categories: Edition for Educators, War

Room Service in the Clink: The Case of the Consumptive Witness

The power to investigate is a central role played by Congress. House committees often call witnesses to testify in order to oversee the administration of government, to educate public opinion, and to inform the process of crafting new legislation. Occasionally, when the House weighs contempt-of-Congress charges against uncooperative witnesses, the Historian’s Office receives the question: where have contumacious witnesses, placed in the custody of the Sergeant at Arms, been imprisoned?
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Categories: Practice & Customs

“The City Scavenger Butters Your Bread”

What piece of legislation best illustrates the tensions facing Congress when it attempts to regulate the diverse U.S. economy? One about butter: the Oleomargarine Act of 1886.
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Categories: Legislation

Good Vibrations: In Defense of the Beach Boys

Fireworks over the National Mall
The nation’s birthday is an event that annually unites Americans from all walks of life. But when a Cabinet Secretary tried to ban one of the most beloved rock groups of all time from playing a July Fourth concert on the National Mall in 1983, Members of the people’s House mounted a vigorous—and humorous—defense of the Beach Boys’ right to perform.

 

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Categories: Holidays

Getting a Foot in the (Chamber) Door

When newly elected Resident Commissioner Federico Degetau of Puerto Rico, the first Member of Congress from the island territory, began his service in the 57th Congress (1901–1903), the media treated him with attentive curiosity. But despite the fanfare and expression of goodwill, Degetau remained unwelcome in the one place that served as the legislature’s nerve center: the House Floor.
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“You Start It and You Like the Work, and You Just Keep On”

To date, 259 Members have served 30 years or more in the U.S. Congress, constituting just two percent of the total historic membership. Yet in an institution where long service often yields greater power, many of these Members became some of the House’s most famous and influential people.
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The Most Kissed Man in America

On June 3, 1898, in the middle of the Spanish-American War, Lieutenant Richmond Pearson Hobson sailed the U.S. collier Merrimac into Santiago Harbor with a hand-picked skeleton crew. Hobson schemed to sink his vessel at the entrance to the Cuban bay, trapping the Spanish fleet.  Though he failed to blockade the harbor, Hobson would soon become a national celebrity for another kind of mission—one ideally suited for the handsome young man.
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Categories: Members of Congress

Skip the Record and Go Straight to the Journal

Researchers often ignore the House Journal in favor of its flashier cousin, the Congressional Record. If laws were sausages, the Congressional Record would report the grinding process of making them. The House Journal by contrast has—with a few minor formatting adjustments—remained a constant over the span of House history, as a simple recapitulation of House actions as required by the Constitution.
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Were There Any Witnesses? Segregation in the House Visitors’ Gallery

Were African Americans in attendance to witness the legislative debates that shaped their freedom? Well, yes and no. The nation barred them from citizenship and service as Members of Congress until the adoption of the 14th Amendment in 1868, but barring African Americans, slave or free, from the Capitol has a murkier history.
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30,000 Letters or Bust: Ansel Wold’s 1928 mission

Over the course of three years in the mid-1920s, the clerk of the Joint Committee on Printing, Ansel Wold, had a mission: find Representative Victor Berger's middle name and the name of the town in which Mr. Berger settled upon his arrival to the U.S. in the 1870s. And Wold needed to find this information fast, in time to publish the 1928 edition of the Biographical Directory of the American Congress.
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From Averting Death to Common House Practice: The Committee of the Whole

Parliamentary procedure itself rarely generates heated discussion, but that's mainly because the drama that created the precedent has long passed. What today is dry and routine often was, at one point, highly contentious.
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Discovering a Page’s Place in the “Second American Revolution”

During the Reconstruction Era, African Americans gained elective office and the U.S. House of Representatives was forever changed. Americans know the narrative that describes Reconstruction as the “Second American Revolution”—one in which basic political and citizenship rights were conferred upon freed slaves (at least the men). Congressional Reconstruction imposed in the South also changed the face of the membership of the House. Until recently, however, we knew very little about the changes that Reconstruction wrought at the staff level in the House.
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