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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 25–36 of 37 results

Representing the President

In the spring of 1921, Republican Walter Folger Brown of Ohio, the chairman of Congress’s Joint Committee on the Reorganization of the Administrative Branch of the Government, began overhauling the size and shape of the federal bureaucracy. On paper, he seemed like a natural choice to lead Congress’s efforts to overhaul the government: a discreet business leader with progressive credentials from the key state of Ohio. A natural choice, that is, except for one detail: Brown was not a Member of Congress.
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Rising up in the House—Part I:
Rep. Dyer and the Irish Rebellion of 1916

On April 24, 1916, Irish republicans took up arms against the British government in what became known as the Easter Rising. They seized the General Post Office in Dublin and distributed the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, which affirmed the right of the Irish people to form an independent government and claimed the support of Ireland’s “exiled children in America.” The Irish insurgency, and the British response to it, both captivated and appalled the U.S. public—including Congress.
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Categories: Legislation, War

Rising up in the House—Part II:
The House Debates the “Irish Question”

On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress to denounce German aggression. Dramatically abandoning his commitment to neutrality, he urged Congress to declare war on Imperial Germany to “make the world safe for democracy.” Wilson emphasized that the United States must undertake a principled intervention in the war in order to protect the right of self-determination for small nations. When Congress passed a war declaration on April 6, Members seized the moment to revive the issue of Irish independence, which had failed to gain traction in the House a year earlier when Missouri Representative Leonidas C. Dyer insisted that Congress support the Easter Rising.
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Categories: Legislation, War

Sick Days

Shortly after noon on Friday, October 11, 1918, Martin D. Foster of Illinois anxiously asked for permission to speak on the floor. The six-term Congressman, who’d been a small-town doctor in down-state Illinois, was still digesting the latest grim reports about the rapid spread of the lethal Spanish influenza outbreak. What Foster had read alarmed him.
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Categories: Legislation

Tax Reform with a Side of Margarine

Representative William S. Cowherd

Nineteenth-century tax policy was hardly as dry as plain toast. Congress returned to the margarine debate again and again for nearly 65 years.

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Categories: Legislation

The Apportionment Act of 1842: “In All Cases, By District”

In April 1842, the United States House of Representatives began what could arguably be called the first reorganization process—the first spring cleaning, as it were—in Congress’ history. The size of the House had increased steadily since 1789, and as required by the Constitution it had adjusted its Membership every 10 years following the Census in a process called reapportionment. In a decision that shaped the makeup of the House for decades, Congress broke with 50 years of precedent to make two dramatic and substantial changes: it shrunk the size of the House for the first time in U.S. history, and standardized what we would recognize as the modern congressional district.
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Categories: Legislation, Elections

“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

The Search for Common Ground

In the span of five months during the winter and spring of 1962 two major entrenched powers faced off in an obstinate battle of wills. This wasn’t a traditional war, but more of a smoldering, protracted conflict between long-time rivals with competing interests. Territory was contested. Stakes escalated. Worldviews were challenged. Catastrophe beckoned. And all the while, the ability of the federal government to function hung in the balance.
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The Waste Basket Committee

For his maiden speech in the 69th Congress (1925–1927), Representative Robert Alexis “Lex” Green, as he was known, chose to take on his own party, arguing against an inheritance tax that would affect his aging Florida constituents. House Democratic leaders responded to his impudence by assigning him to the most “prosaic” of committees: the Committee on Disposition of Useless Executive Papers.
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Time Travel: Daylight Saving Time and the House

When first-term Representative Leon Sacks of Pennsylvania introduced H.R. 6546 on April 21, 1937, the Earth did not stop spinning. Time did not stand still.

But it almost did.

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Categories: Legislation, War

Unprohibited

On February 20, 1933, Speaker Garner struggled to maintain order on the House Floor as Thomas Blanton, a “dry,” made a final stand in support of Prohibition. Garner impatiently tapped the inkstand on the rostrum as Representatives booed and shouted “Vote, vote!” After the House voted to repeal Prohibition, the galleries and halls overflowed with the applause of spectators. Yet dismantling the legislative trails of the 18th Amendment took nearly a year. Like a bar crawl, the end of Prohibition was full of awkward moments, fights, and beer.
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What Does “Civilization” Look Like?

Detail of Harper's Weekly Cover
Reconstruction Era illustrations from Harper’s Weekly both showed and told their audience about new civil rights laws and gave them a graphic sense of changes in America.
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