House: The History of the House of Representatives


Throughout America's history, the House has played a central role in shaping the nation's destiny. In this incomparable single-volume history, distinguished historian Robert V. Remini traces the institution from a struggling, nascent body to the venerable powerhouse it has become since America's rise on the world stage. The essential drama of democracy?the struggle between principle and pragmatism?is showcased throughout the book, and through it the history of America's successful experiment with democracy ...

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Throughout America's history, the House has played a central role in shaping the nation's destiny. In this incomparable single-volume history, distinguished historian Robert V. Remini traces the institution from a struggling, nascent body to the venerable powerhouse it has become since America's rise on the world stage. The essential drama of democracy—the struggle between principle and pragmatism—is showcased throughout the book, and through it the history of America's successful experiment with democracy unfurls.

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Editorial Reviews

William E. Leuchtenburg
"From the convention of 1787 to the impeachment of Bill Clinton, [Remini] takes the reader on an exhilarating ride."
Richard Lowitt
"[T]he very best volume of its kind thus far presented to the vast constituency of the House."
Daniel J. Silver
On Daniel Webster: the Man and His Times:“A splendid addition to [Remini’s] highly regarded books”
—William E. Leuchtenburg
“From the convention of 1787 to the impeachment of Bill Clinton, [Remini] takes the reader on an exhilarating ride.”
—Richard Lowitt
“[T]he very best volume of its kind thus far presented to the vast constituency of the House.”
--William E. Leuchtenburg
“From the convention of 1787 to the impeachment of Bill Clinton, [Remini] takes the reader on an exhilarating ride.”
--Richard Lowitt
“[T]he very best volume of its kind thus far presented to the vast constituency of the House.”
Publishers Weekly
National Book Award winner Remini (Andrew Jackson) offers the definitive history of "the People's House." Envisioned as the more democratic half of America's bicameral legislature, the House first convened on April 1, 1789. As Remini shows, in the early decades, Henry Clay's leadership was crucial-his willingness to go head-to-head with the Monroe administration helped establish the House's power and autonomy. During the Civil War, the House provided crucial support for the Union by passing legislation to print greenbacks and create a military draft. Remini treats the 16 black congressmen who served during Reconstruction in t a few, general paragraphs; this particular era in the institution's history deserves more attention. Turning to the 20th century, Remini examines the House's response to the Great Depression, the Cold War, civil rights, Vietnam and Watergate. His concluding chapter addresses the "Conservative Revolution" of the 1980s and `90s. Here Newt Gingrich gets the spotlight: he was determined to give the House a more prominent position in the legislative process, but also helped usher in "an era of incivility and personal attack and partisanship" that, says Remini, continues today. Written at the instruction of Congress,, this tome is highly readable though encyclopedic. B&w photos. (May 1) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The U.S. House of Representatives, with two centuries of history and 11,750 cumulative members, conceivably could be chronicled in one volume, but this official history-the straitjacket of one volume and one author was imposed-does not do the job. Remini, a distinguished historian of antebellum America, with more than ten books on Andrew Jackson to his name, is not an obvious choice for the project. Often he can only push the narrative along by reciting election returns and sprinkling irrelevancies such as information on flappers into the text as if he forgot his intended subject. It is a book a mile wide and an inch deep presenting little the well-read student of American history won't already know. Remini wanted to appeal to scholars, but the lack of a bibliography or suggestions for further inquiry is notable, while his footnotes never give citations to the many laws and court cases described. In spite of these flaws, the book does fill a need and is an optional purchase for public libraries.-Michael O. Eshleman, Kings Mills, OH Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061341113
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/2/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 624
  • Sales rank: 452,630
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert V. Remini is professor of history emeritus and research professor of humanities emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago and historian of the United States House of Representatives. He is the winner of the National Book Award for the third volume of his study of Andrew Jackson, and he lives in Wilmette, Illinois.

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Read an Excerpt

The House

The History of the House of Representatives
By Robert V. Remini

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Robert V. Remini
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060884347

Chapter One

Inaugurating a New Government,
March-April 1789

The guns at the Battery in New York City shattered the stillness of the morning with an eleven-gun salute to announce to a barely awakened population that this was March 4, 1789, the day the new government, formed by the recently ratified Constitution, would be inaugurated.

Then church bells around the city added to the din, setting up a joyful cry to remind everyone that at eleven o'clock both houses of Congress would meet and count the electoral ballots submitted by each state and announce to the world that the great hero of their Revolution had been elected President of the United States. Even without an electoral count everyone knew that George Washington would head -- indeed, must head -- the new government. He was so much beloved and honored that it was inconceivable that anyone else should or could be selected President. It was also expected that John Adams of Massachusetts would be chosen Vice President. His remarkable career and his northern connection, despite his monarchical leanings, made him the appropriate choice.

Virtually every building in the city hung flags to celebrate the momentous event, andas each hour passed people poured into the streets and headed for Federal Hall, where Congress would assemble. "Marks of evident satisfaction were visibly imprinted on every countenance," wrote a reporter for the Massachusetts (Boston) Centinel.1 In a city of a little less than thirty thousand individuals, with approximately two thousand black slaves, a city recovering from the effects of British occupation during much of the Revolution, it seemed that most of the population joined in the celebration. In part the excitement centered on the fact that a republican form of government had been established that was indeed representative of the people and their states. True, this tripartite form of government contained traces of a monarchical system with its office of chief executive, along with elements of oligarchy or aristocracy in the structure of the Senate. But the House of Representatives was truly democratic since it was composed of members chosen directly by the electorate, either at large or from districts in each state. Every two years the representatives of the House had to go before their constituents and win approval for another two years in office or be replaced by someone else. It had taken more than a century and a half of colonial government for Americans to appreciate the need, and invent the way, to provide for democratic rule. As George Mason, who framed the Virginia Declaration of Rights, declared, the House is "the grand repository of the democratic principle of the Government."2 As such it was totally unique, and everyone at the time knew it and hoped and prayed it would work.

In the national elections that followed the ratification of the Constitution, the friends of this new document, called Federalists, fortunately won an overwhelming majority in the local and state contests, rather than its critics, the Anti-Federalists, who fought to defeat ratification of the Constitution because it failed to provide a Bill of Rights and conferred what seemed like enormous powers on the central government and thereby weakened the states. Disputed contests for House seats occurred in only fifteen out of forty-three districts, but forty-nine out of fifty-nine Federalists were elected.3 Now these congressmen had the enormous responsibility of implementing the Constitution. They had to flesh out the bare bones of a governmental structure that contained any number of ambiguities and inherent problems. And the Framers of the Constitution had to guess at state populations in apportioning the number of seats for each state in the first House of Representatives.4

So, there was fear and expectation, excitement and hope as the elected members of Congress filed into Federal Hall, a building at the corner of Wall and Nassau Streets, which served as New York's City Hall. Major Pierre-Charles L'Enfant, a young French architect and engineer who had fought in the Revolution as a volunteer, had been hired to convert the building into a handsome and appropriate site for the nation's new government. At a cost of $65,000, financed by a local tax and lotteries,5 the structure measured 95 feet in width and 145 feet in depth.6 With large portals off the covered walkway on the street level, it sported four columns on the second floor and a huge American eagle on the pediment of the portico. Rather strikingly, the building marked the beginning of the country's commitment to the uniquely Federal style of architecture.

As congressmen entered the building they found a three-story central vestibule with a marble floor and a splendidly decorated skylight under a small cupola. The House chamber was located off this vestibule; it was a handsomely adorned two-story octagonal hall, with committee rooms and an office for a clerk connected to it. Senators found their chamber on the second floor via two stairways, one of which was reserved for congressmen, and was almost immediately referred to as the upper house.7 "It is very true," wrote Peter Muhlenberg to Benjamin Rush, "that the appellation of Lower House will perfectly apply at present to the House of Representatives, but in this case, the upper and lower House derive their different rank from the whim or plea-sure of the Architect."8

The building won instant praise as a "superb edifice," one worthy of the greatest and best cities of Europe.9 "Let us all hope," editorialized the New York Morning Post and Daily Advertiser on March 14, "that as the Building of this House has been attended with singular success so may our wishes be fulfilled in every a swift and successful administration of Government."10

Workmen were still putting the final touches to L'Enfant's elegant structure when the representatives arrived on March 4, so the congressmen had to temporarily find makeshift space in another part of the building. Some sixty-five representatives were expected on that first day but only thirteen . . .


Excerpted from The House by Robert V. Remini Copyright © 2006 by Robert V. Remini. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Foreword     vii
Prologue     1
Inaugurating a New Government, March-April 1789     9
The First Session of the 1st Congress, March-September 1789     24
New York, Philadelphia and Ideological Conflict, 1790-1797     37
A New Beginning in Washington, 1798-1807     60
Henry Clay and the Ascendancy of the House of Representatives, 1806-1821     85
A Democratized House, 1822-1846     111
The Struggle to Save the Union, 1846-1860     136
The Civil War, 1860-1865     164
Reconstruction, 1865-1877     190
The Gilded Age, 1869-1895     218
"Czar" Reed and "Uncle Joe" Cannon, 1888-1910     245
The Speaker Eclipsed and Revived, 1910-1928     276
The Great Depression, the New Deal and the Outbreak of War, 1928-1941     303
The Hot and Cold Wars, 1941-1952     333
The Gatekeeper and the Fight for Civil Rights, 1953-1961     359
The Great Society, Voting Rights and Vietnam, 1961-1969     388
Scandal, Watergate and Reform, 1969-1980     420
The Conservative Revolution, 1981-2001     457
Epilogue     496
List of Speakers, 1789-2005     505
Clerks of the House, 1789-2005     508
Sergeants at Arms of the House, 1789-2005     510
Chaplains of the House, 1789-2005     513
Doorkeepers of the House, 1789-1995     517
Chief Administrative Officers of the House, 1995-2005     520
Parliamentarians of the House     521
Majority and Minority Leaders, 1899-2006     522
Democratic Whips, 1899-2005     526
Republican Whips, 1897-2005     529
Organizing the House     530
Counting the Electoral Votes for President and Vice President     532
Organization and Operation of the Whip     534
Routing Legislation Through Congress     536
Electronic Voting     537
Committees of the House and Joint Committees of the 109th Congress     538
Pages     539
Credits: Photographs and Illustrations     541
Notes     543
Index     593
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