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.

John Randolph of Roanoke, watercolor by Arthur J. Stansbury, 1829

Fri, 2013-02-15 15:14 -- administrator

Randolph was impossible to ignore, appearing on the House floor with riding whip and hunting dogs. Brutal in debate, Randolph championed agrarian interests and limited government. "I am an aristocrat," he proclaimed, "I love liberty, I hate equality." But the country soon passed Randolph by as manufacturing interests grew, and politics became more democratic.

Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia

 

John Randolph of Roanoke, engraving by John Sartain, ca. 1876, after the original by Catlin, 1831

Fri, 2013-02-15 15:13 -- administrator

Randolph was impossible to ignore, appearing on the House floor with riding whip and hunting dogs. Brutal in debate, Randolph championed agrarian interests and limited government. "I am an aristocrat," he proclaimed, "I love liberty, I hate equality." But the country soon passed Randolph by as manufacturing interests grew, and politics became more democratic.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

James Madison, oil on canvas by Charles Willson Peale, ca. 1792

Fri, 2013-02-15 15:09 -- administrator

Madison was a legislative giant, despite his slight build and tentative manner. Dismissed as "too much of a book politician" by Representative Fisher Ames of Massachusetts, it was Madison who drafted the Bill of Rights and ushered it through the House. He was a close political adviser to President George Washington and later a key leader of the Jeffersonian Republicans.

Brick Paver

Fri, 2013-02-15 14:54 -- administrator

Sturdy and inexpensive, brick pavers were used in the offices and corridors in the House wing. Following President Jefferson’s suggestion, some hexagonal floor tiles like this one were imported from France.

Architect of the Capitol

Report of Destroyed House Records, 1814

Fri, 2013-02-15 14:53 -- administrator

On August 24, 1814, British troops invaded Washington, D.C., burning the Capitol, the White House, and most federal buildings. The report to the Clerk of the House lists the records destroyed in the fire and why some could not be removed.

Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

1798 The Rough and Tumble of Debate

In a democracy, disagreement doesn’t mean disloyalty. But political parties were new in the United States, and it took time to accept the idea that opposition can strengthen a democratic society. As Congress divided into opposing political parties (Federalists, often viewed as aristocratic, versus the sometimes rambunctious Jeffersonian Republicans), debates frequently led to strong words—and, on rare occasions, more.

Amending the Constitution

What did the newly written Constitution say about freedom of speech? Freedom of religion? Nothing. The drafters of the Constitution were split over whether to list individual rights. Most felt that these were matters for state or local governments. During the first congressional election campaign, however, voters changed the minds of many lawmakers—including Virginia’s James Madison, a primary framer of the Constitution.

Pages

Share This Page

            
Subscribe to RSS - The House