Historical Highlights

A Rare Saturday Opening Day

January 03, 1953
A Rare Saturday Opening Day Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
The 46th Speaker of the House, Joseph Martin of Massachusetts served more than 41 years in the House.
On this date, the 83rd Congress (1953–1955) convened for a rare Saturday Opening Day. In the fall 1952 elections, Republicans rode on the coattails of their popular presidential candidate, Dwight D. Eisenhower, to win control of Congress. In the House, Democrats had lost 22 seats, giving Republicans a narrow majority of 221 members, three more than the minimum of 218. Republicans also won a majority in the Senate, as the GOP unified its control of Capitol Hill and the presidency for the first time since the 71st Congress (1929–1931). On January 2, 1953, the House Republican Conference met to select leaders and discuss proposed procedural rules changes. The House, which adopts a new set of rules at the start of each new Congress, could not conduct business without them. Of particular concern to the incoming GOP majority was a proposal by Democrat Herman Eberharter to revive the so-called “21-Day Rule,” which empowered committee chairs to send legislation directly to the House Floor if the Rules Committee had not acted after 21 days. By organizing the new Congress on Saturday rather than postponing Opening Day to a weekday, Republicans sought to defuse Eberharter’s effort. Some lawmakers voiced concerns that a drawn-out rules’ debate in both chambers could stymie quick action on this agenda. They were eager to implement income tax cuts and reductions to government spending. Though unlikely, a protracted rules’ fight that stymied the organization of the House, might also delay the January 6 Electoral College vote count that would officially pave Eisenhower’s way into office. None of those scenarios played out when Congress opened on January 3. After the election of Joseph W. Martin Jr. as Speaker, Members-elect took the oath of office, officers were elected, and the House quickly adopted rules for the 83rd Congress. During deliberation, Speaker Martin quickly sidelined Eberharter’s request to consider his proposal for renewing the 21-Day Rule. With the rules approved, the House sailed through administrative business and adjourned just before 5 pm. On January 6, the House and Senate met as planned in Joint Session, tallying the Electoral College votes, and confirming Eisenhower’s landslide victory, 442 to 89 over Democrat Adlai Stevenson.

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