Due to a special event taking place in the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, September 18, there will be no tours of the U.S. Capitol that day until approximately noon. The Capitol Visitor Center will remain open during this time, and guided tours in the Capitol Visitor Center will be available.

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.

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Most Americans greeted the 20th century with optimism. The early decades saw economic growth and the expansion of democracy as women gained the vote. But two world wars, the Great Depression, and the nuclear age later tested such confidence.

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The House of Representatives 1913-1945

Representing a Changing Nation

While foreign affairs tugged at America's attention, the House remained focused on the home front. Early in the century, many Midwestern Populists and Progressives held strong pacifist and isolationist beliefs, rejecting international involvement. A major concern of many members was the 1920 Census and its potential effect on redistributing House seats among states.

Even as the unsettled climate abroad threatened, domestic concerns continued to dominate the House in the 1930s. Representatives eagerly rallied behind a plan to combat the Great Depression by paying veterans an early advance bonus, and supported President Roosevelt's "100 Days" legislation.

A Domestic Focus

Why did the House concentrate primarily on domestic concerns, leaving foreign policy to the presidency? Two factors kept representatives' attention at home. First, as domestic policy grew increasingly technical, it demanded greater expertise—and attention.

Second, presidents consistently showed superior leadership in foreign and economic policies. Compared with the more fragmented chorus in the House, the president's ability to speak with a single voice and take a broader approach to these national issues gave the executive branch an important advantage.

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The Senate 1913-1945

Confronting Crises at Home and Abroad

World War I and the Great Depression presented new challenges to America, and to the Senate. To deal with these crises, Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt demanded more authority—which shook the balance of power between the branches. What was the Senate’s proper role?

Members debated giving too much power—or too little—to the president in times of national crisis. In 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor temporarily ended this debate in favor of the president. The national unity of World War II also helped forge a bipartisan foreign policy.

Limiting Debate, Flexing its Muscle

To hasten a decision on entering World War I, the Senate for the first time reined in its tradition of unlimited debate. After the war, the Senate—disagreeing bitterly with President Woodrow Wilson—rejected the Treaty of Versailles and League of Nations that Wilson had helped negotiate. As the issues confronting the Senate grew in number and complexity, members for the first time elected formal party floor leaders to manage the chamber’s legislative agenda. In this era, Senate committees expanded their investigations of actions by the executive branch, climaxing with a World War II inquiry into how money is spent for national defense. Later, senators explored how best to strengthen Congress against the continued increase in presidential power.

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The Capitol 1913-1945

Stability in an Era of Change

The first half of the 20th century was a time of upheavals and change, with two world wars, the Great Depression, and unprecedented technological transformations. Amid the turmoil and uncertainty that marked the era, the Capitol’s unfailing dignity was a reassuring presence, giving Americans a sense of steady resolve in troubled times.

While the Capitol itself remained unaltered, new buildings and additional land helped the campus evolve and expand. Improving the facilities and beautifying the setting were constant concerns, leading to an ever-changing backdrop for the unchanging Capitol.

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Images of the Era - 1913-1945

  • Through two world wars and the Great Depression, the Capitol retained its familiar form.

    Through two world wars and the Great Depression, the Capitol retained its familiar form.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Silent marchers in New York City protested rising violence nationwide against African-Americans, 1917.

    Silent marchers in New York City protested rising violence nationwide against African-Americans, 1917.

    Photographs and Prints Division, SchomburgCenter for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

  • A U.S. Army gun crew fired at entrenched German soldiers on the Western Front, 1918

    A U.S. Army gun crew fired at entrenched German soldiers on the Western Front, 1918.

    National Archives and Records Administration

  • In 1920, with the Nineteenth Amendment, women gained the right to vote in national elections.

    In 1920, with the Nineteenth Amendment, women gained the right to vote in national elections.

    Culver Pictures

  • Police destroyed beer kegs when the Eighteenth Amendment took effect in 1920, banning the sale of alcoholic beverages.

    Police destroyed beer kegs when the Eighteenth Amendment took effect in 1920, banning the sale of alcoholic beverages.

    © Bettmann/CORBIS

  • The Wall Street crash of 1929 left many people penniless and triggered the Great Depression.

    The Wall Street crash of 1929 left many people penniless and triggered the Great Depression.

    © Bettmann/CORBIS

  • Breadlines sprang up in cities across the country during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

    Breadlines sprang up in cities across the country during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Through the WPA, the government offered employment on public projects to millions of Americans during the 1930s.

    Through the WPA, the government offered employment on public projects to millions of Americans during the 1930s.

    Poster by Vera Bock. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • In the 1930s, workers around the country staged sit-down strikes to demand more favorable working conditions.

    In the 1930s, workers around the country staged sit-down strikes to demand more favorable working conditions.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Japan’s attack on the U.S. fleet in Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II.

    Japan’s attack on the U.S. fleet in Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II.

    National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

  • American troops prepare to land at Normandy, World War II.

    American troops prepare to land at Normandy, World War II.

    National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

  • During World War II, the U.S. government interned approximately 110,000 Japanese Americans in camps like Manzanar in California.

    Photograph by Dorothea Lange. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

  • With men away fighting in World War II, millions of women entered the workforce in the 1940s.

    With men away fighting in World War II, millions of women entered the workforce in the 1940s.

    National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

  • The NAACP worked to eradicate the racial discrimination symbolized by “Jim Crow.”

    The NAACP worked to eradicate the racial discrimination symbolized by “Jim Crow.”

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • American soldiers in Paris celebrated Japan’s surrender, which ended World War II in August 1945.

    American soldiers in Paris celebrated Japan’s surrender, which ended World War II in August 1945.

    National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

  • The Medal of Honor

    The Medal of Honor is the highest award for military bravery bestowed upon individuals in this country and is presented “in the name of the Congress of the United States.” It is awarded for a deed of personal bravery or self-sacrifice above and beyond the call of duty while an individual is a member of the armed services.

    Since its inception in 1861, during the time of the Civil War, more than 3,400 individuals have received the Medal of Honor. It has been awarded to members of each of the five services: Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. Twenty-one of its recipients later became members of Congress.

    House of Representatives

    Henry H. Bingham, Pennsylvania–Civil War
    John C. Black, Illinois–Civil War
    Thomas W. Bradley, New York–Civil War
    Amos J. Cummings, New York–Civil War
    Newton M. Curtis, New York–Civil War
    Byron M. Cutcheon, Michigan–Civil War
    John M. Farquhar, New York–Civil War
    John H. Moffitt, New York–Civil War
    Charles E. Phelps, Maryland–Civil War
    Philip S. Post, Illinois–Civil War
    Daniel E. Sickles, New York–Civil War
    Richmond P. Hobson, Alabama–Spanish-American War
    Willis W. Bradley, California–World War I
    Edouard V. Izac, California–World War I

    Senate

    Adelbert Ames, Mississippi–Civil War
    Henry A. DuPont, Delaware–Civil War
    Matthew S. Quay, Pennsylvania–Civil War
    William J. Sewell, New Jersey–Civil War
    Francis E. Warren, Wyoming–Civil War
    Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii–World War II
    Joseph R. (Bob) Kerrey, Nebraska–Vietnam War