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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 1–8 of 8 results

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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Engraving the Phoenix

1907 Print of African-American Members
On a sheet the size of a small poster, 22 politicians’ portraits crowd the image, titled “Colored Men Who Have Served in the Congress of the United States.” The worn print recalls the decades following the Civil War, when African Americans came to Congress to represent their fellow Southerners in the national legislature. And more than a memory, it testifies to the persistence of hope during Jim Crow–era political violence and disenfranchisement.
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“I Ask Nothing Because I am a Negro”: A Letter to the Committee on Military Affairs

By age 26, Henry Ossian Flipper’s place in history was already assured. In 1877, he was the first African American to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point, where his race was a fact his fellow students never let him forget. He was the first African-American commissioned officer in the U.S. Army.
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Crowned with Freedom

Capitol Architect Thomas U. Walter had not slept well in days. The painstaking process required to mount the Statue of Freedom atop the Capitol’s unfinished new Dome had kept him awake at night. But on December 2, 1863, clear skies and a gentle breeze greeted Walter as his team of workers adjoined the final piece to the 19-foot, six-inch statue.
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Rediscovering Rainey's Reign

It’s unclear what prompted Representative Luke Poland of Vermont to leave the rostrum that day and yield the gavel, as the 43rd Congress (1873–1875) debated an Indian appropriations bill. But what is clear is that he set in motion a series of events that seemed the very culmination of the Civil War. When Poland stepped down, Joseph Hayne Rainey of South Carolina—a former slave who had once been impressed into service by the Confederacy before escaping to Bermuda—mounted the Speaker’s rostrum, grasped the gavel, and set Capitol Hill abuzz.
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Edition for Educators—African-American Congressmen in the 19th Century

Robert Smalls of South Carolina
Robert Smalls fought for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives despite violence from the opposition, and focused his congressional career on promoting African-American civil rights. Twenty-two African-Americans served in Congress from 1870 to 1901. Learn more about the life and accomplishments of Robert Smalls and other 19th-century African-American Members of Congress for Black History Month.
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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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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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