History of Congress and the Capitol
This is the story of one of the world's great experiments in government by the people.
For more than two centuries, a new Congress has convened every two years following elections that determine all the seats in the House and one-third of those in the Senate. While the individuals change, the institution has endured-through civil and world wars, waves of immigration and great migrations, and continuous social and technological change.
The Congress we know today was created after the failure of a government under the Articles of Confederation, which left most powers to the states. In 1787, a convention of specially selected delegates proposed a new constitution that strengthened the national government and established a representative branch composed of a House and Senate.
From the beginning, the two bodies of Congress were meant to be different, yet interdependent. James Madison said they would be "as little connected with each other, as the nature of their common functions, and their common dependence on society, will admit." As a result, the House and Senate have different rules, traditions, and cultures. Yet in their shared responsibilities they function as the nation's single lawmaking body.
Flexibility in meeting change is vital to the success of American democracy. And seldom has change come so quickly as in this era.
After World War II, veterans returned home eager to find jobs and start families. The postwar baby boom, combined with immigration, doubled the U.S. population over the next half century, increasing demands for schools, housing, and goods; and economic growth was unprecedented. In order to expand the benefits of American freedom and prosperity, Congress passed laws aiding the elderly, disabled, and poor, as well as historic civil rights legislation.
A four-decade Cold War shaped American foreign policy in the last half of the 20th century. Troops fought wars in Korea and Vietnam, and were stationed around the globe. When the Cold War ended, America faced new regional conflicts, as well as the growth of global terrorism. Confronting the challenges of an increasingly interdependent world, the American people continued to express their views within this singular forum of representative democracy—the Congress of the United States.