“We are so accustomed to seeing our (Country’s) history measured by the Presidency that we forget the the extent to which the real story of our country takes place right there (the Congress)” David Mccullough
While it may be hard to recognize, the Congress occupies the true central stage of the drama of American government. It continues to be the “engine of democracy” as historian David Mccullough has called it. However, for most of us, our political awareness and our historical perspectives are so monopolized by the Presidency that we forget that the national definition of our country is, and has always been, found on Capitol Hill, not Pennsylvania Avenue.
There are more than a few reasons for this misdirected view. The typical target is the nature of a national media that seeks the most possible viewers and thus focuses more on the White House than any other building in America. (Like it or not, the current White House continues to be a great ratings grabber). Some of this is due to human nature where we all seek methods of understanding the world in easily digestible stories. It is far easier to understand the day to day events of our nation by focusing on, and filtering them through, the actions and motivations of one individual instead of the 535 of them. In this, we can place our hopes and fears, our anger and our adoration onto a single area of focus.
Similarly, looking through the lens of history is a lot easier when it i focused n one person, where murky, complex and complicated events can come into focus by viewing them as part of a story of one great, or terrible, figure. The reality, however, is more complicated. Whether looking at the seemingly impossible problems of the modern world or the endless complexities of the past, it may be easier to shrink our focus, but this produces an inaccurate or incomplete understanding of the world. It is not productive in any effort to better ourselves. Real understanding of our nation requires a deep understanding of where and how the actions and the decisions of national impact take place. For Americans that place is not just the Presidency, it is the Congress.
Understanding the History of Congress is vital to understanding the institution itself. This understanding will be the focus of this area of the website, the History of Congress. Some of the focus will be on the structure (how it functions), some of it will be on the events that have shaped the institution or that the institution has shaped, but mostly we will look at the people who have made of the Congress. For more than anything, its history is the history of people of have served.
Sony Bono served there, so did Huey Long, and Charlie Wilson (of Charlie Wilson’s War fame) as did an actor who was a regular on “The Love Boat”. Bill Bradlee, and Al Franken, and Fiorello La Guardia all served multiple terms despite making their names in other professions or other cities. People from every walk of life and political persuasion have served there: slaveholders and abolitionists, anti-suffragists and housewives, astronauts and businessmen, Rhodes scholars and high school dropouts, athletes and playwrights and convicted felons. They have created social security and the GI Bill, they have also dueled each other on the Capitol grounds. They have resigned their positions to join the armed forces to serve their country and they have been forced to resign under charges of bribery, enriching themselves at the cost of their country. Twenty-four from Congress have become president and eighty-four have been convicted of a crime. Throughout the history of Congress it’s members have: expanded the country, expanded and eliminated slavery, protected freedom of speech and damaged it, passed Medicare and funded life saving medical research, sent humans to the moon and created monopolies, given untold powers to the president and taken those powers away, they have declared wars and stopped them. The Congress is where our laws are made and this page is for the people who made them.