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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 13–24 of 385 results

"A Law-Making Mill:" The Hopper, The House, and Agrarian America

The Hopper
A basket, a hopper, a bin. All new legislation has its start here, a container located on the rostrum in the House Chamber. At the end of every legislative day the Clerk of the House collects the bills and assigns each one a number. From there, the bills are referred to committee by the Speaker with the aid of the Parliamentarian. The story of how the hopper got its name speaks to the nation’s agrarian roots and the legislative process.
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Categories: Practice & Customs

A Member by Any Other Name

“Old Man Eloquent,” “Sunset Cox,” “Czar Reed,” “Uncle Joe,” “Vinegar Bend,” “Mr. Sam,” the “Little Giant.” Since the earliest Congresses, Members of the House have earned—or received—nicknames based on their careers and interests, monikers that have long outlived them.
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Categories: Members of Congress

A Message Too Far: The House Reprimands President Roosevelt

Laughter flooded the House Chamber, rising from both sides of the floor and cascading down from the crowded galleries. Atop the marble rostrum Speaker Joseph G. Cannon of Illinois, looking to regain order, banged his gavel so hard that he cracked the top of his desk. The cause of this ruckus stood frozen at the chamber’s entrance looking bewildered and embarrassed—a House Doorkeeper and a White House clerk who had just interrupted debate with an announcement from President Theodore Roosevelt.
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A Mob in Search of a Speaker

Robert M. T. Hunter
During the chaotic first two weeks of the 26th Congress (1839–1841) in December 1839, three separate men presided over the House of Representatives: Clerk Hugh Garland of the previous Congress, Representative John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts in an entirely invented position, and finally Robert M. T. Hunter of Virginia, the youngest Speaker of the House ever to hold the office.
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A Proper Symbol of Office

The Mace of the House of Representatives
Wherever and whenever the U.S. House of Representatives meets, this historic artifact is there.
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A Tale of Two Vases

Sevres Vase blooms
Once upon a time, in 1918, the U.S. House of Representatives received a gift of two porcelain vases. They were exquisite. Commanding attention, standing nearly six feet tall, the attractive vessels were a gesture from France expressing gratitude for America’s role in World War I.
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Categories: Practice & Customs, Art

A “Troublesome and Greatly Derided Custom” — Answering the Annual Message

During the presidencies of George Washington and John Adams, the process of the State of the Union and its responses was more genteel and singular, but no less contentious than it is today. In the 1790s, both houses of Congress drafted, debated, and marched en masse to the President’s mansion to deliver a formal, unified response, addressing the important issues raised by the executive. That is, until one volatile Member of the House dared to wonder aloud what the fuss was all about.
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“A Voice as Resounding as a Trumpet”

Inside the House Chamber, along its southern wall, an American flag hangs above a modest three-tiered structure that is arguably one of the most recognizable pieces of furniture in the federal government—the House rostrum, the institution’s central nervous system. The rostrum’s middle row is reserved for three clerks, in particular: the House Journal clerk, the tally clerk who records votes, and the reading clerk who, as the job suggests, reads legislation and once called the roll of Members before the House switched to an electronic voting system in 1973. With such a prominent and vocal responsibility, reading clerks are often in the public eye. Most have remained anonymous, but in the first half of the 20th century the colorful personality and vocal endurance of Patrick James Haltigan made him a star.
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A Womanly Woman with Womanly Ambitions

On June 1, 1917, Jeannette Rankin penned a letter to her Montana constituents articulating her frustration with some recent media coverage. “No doubt you have read in the papers about my ‘red hair’ and ‘sending the fathers to war’ and other inventions of the eastern press. I wish you were here to see Congress working and to know the true facts,” she wrote. After all, she didn’t have red hair and she voted against American intervention in World War I.
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Absorbing Constituent Needs

Representative Herbert Drane with a Sponge
A Member of Congress represents and assists constituents. So when a Representative served a district known for one of the largest natural sponge markets in the world . . . well, that Member advocated for the absorbent product.
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Adjournment Fever

House Pages Throw Paper in the Air
Finishing the legislative session in the summer used to be a yearly occurrence, with its own traditions. Members tried to guess the correct date of adjournment, sweltered through the final bills of summer, then sang into the night. Before Congress headed home for the season, these congressional traditions were recorded in photographs and oral histories.
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Advice to New Members

Luther Patrick Makes a Face
On March 6, 1941, Alabama Representative Luther Patrick gave advice to new Members from the House Floor. His 32-point list detailed the dos and don’ts of congressional behavior. If only he took his own advice.
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