The House

The People's Chamber

The founders expected the House of Representatives to take center stage in the new American government. They felt that its status as the only national institution with members elected directly by the people made the House uniquely important—and posed special dangers. "The evils we experience flow from the excess of democracy," warned Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts at the Constitutional Convention.

Through much of this early period, the House was indeed the nation's driving political force. It proposed the Bill of Rights, drafted legislation to create government agencies, carried out investigations, and shaped an aggressive policy toward Great Britain.

Getting Organized

The House of Representatives was new, yet rested on familiar foundations. The individual states had long experience with popularly elected legislatures. Representatives also looked to Britain's House of Commons, adopting ideas such as a presiding Speaker and basic parliamentary procedures. Its launch went smoothly.

George Norris 1861–1944, Nebraska

Mon, 2013-04-22 10:36 -- administrator

Overnight, Norris became a hero among Progressive reformers when he took on the powerful Speaker, Joseph Cannon. It was his resolution that stripped from the Speaker all committee assignment powers and ended "czar" rule. A Republican loyalist, Norris joined with the Progressives when his district became more sympathetic to reform, and the Republican establishment harshly suppressed insurgency in its ranks.

George Norris, photograph, ca. 1900

Nebraska State Historical Society, RG3298 PH 1 170, copy and reuse restrictions apply

Thomas B. Reed 1839–1902, Maine

Mon, 2013-04-22 10:34 -- administrator

A colleague pronounced Speaker Reed "the greatest parliamentary leader I ever saw." Reed hoped to parlay his parliamentary reputation into the presidency. "They might do worse," he concluded about his chances for the Republican nomination, "and they probably will." Reed ended his career when he resigned in opposition to American territorial expansion in the Spanish-American War.

Thomas B. Reed, photograph by Elmer Chickering, 1894

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

House Member’s Desk and Chair, ca. 1818-1857

Fri, 2013-04-19 10:21 -- administrator

 

After the British burned the Capitol in 1814, only a roofless shell remained. Once the chambers were rebuilt, the legislators needed somewhere to sit. The House ordered 188 desks and chairs like these for their chamber. Cabinetmaker Thomas Constantine built them in just four months.

First image: Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives (desk)

Second image: Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Frank E. Miller in memory of Nellie Holmead Fowler (chair)

House Member’s Desk and Chair, ca. 1818-1857

Fri, 2013-04-19 10:19 -- administrator

After the British burned the Capitol in 1814, only a roofless shell remained. Once the chambers were rebuilt, the legislators needed somewhere to sit. The House ordered 188 desks and chairs like these for their chamber. Cabinetmaker Thomas Constantine built them in just four months.

First image: Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives (desk)

Second image: Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Frank E. Miller in memory of Nellie Holmead Fowler (chair)

1945-Present - The House

Wed, 2013-04-17 20:50 -- administrator

Representing a Superpower

America’s growing superpower role frequently strained relations between the House and the presidency. House support for increased military spending after World War II became a casualty of Vietnam as representatives grew skeptical of presidential military and foreign policies. The war further wrecked havoc on House support for President Johnson’s ambitious “Great Society” programs at home, while the Watergate scandals later inflamed House relations with the presidency.

1913-1945 - The House

Wed, 2013-04-17 20:43 -- administrator

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.

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