The American Senate: An Insider's History

The American Senate: An Insider's History

by Neil MacNeil, Richard A. Baker
     
 

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Winner of the Society for History in the Federal Government's George Pendleton Prize for 2013 The United States Senate has fallen on hard times. Once known as the greatest deliberative body in the world, it now has a reputation as a partisan, dysfunctional chamber. What happened to the house that forged American history's great compromises? In this

Overview

Winner of the Society for History in the Federal Government's George Pendleton Prize for 2013 The United States Senate has fallen on hard times. Once known as the greatest deliberative body in the world, it now has a reputation as a partisan, dysfunctional chamber. What happened to the house that forged American history's great compromises? In this groundbreaking work, a distinguished journalist and an eminent historian provide an insider's history of the United States Senate. Richard A. Baker, historian emeritus of the Senate, and the late Neil MacNeil, former chief congressional correspondent for Time magazine, integrate nearly a century of combined experience on Capitol Hill with deep research and state-of-the-art scholarship. They explore the Senate's historical evolution with one eye on persistent structural pressures and the other on recent transformations. Here, for example, are the Senate's struggles with the presidency--from George Washington's first, disastrous visit to the chamber on August 22, 1789, through now-forgotten conflicts with Presidents Garfield and Cleveland, to current war powers disputes. The authors also explore the Senate's potent investigative power, and show how it began with an inquiry into John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859. It took flight with committees on the conduct of the Civil War, Reconstruction, and World War II; and it gained a high profile with Joseph McCarthy's rampage against communism, Estes Kefauver's organized-crime hearings (the first to be broadcast), and its Watergate investigation. Within the book are surprises as well. For example, the office of majority leader first acquired real power in 1952--not with Lyndon Johnson, but with Republican Robert Taft. Johnson accelerated the trend, tampering with the sacred principle of seniority in order to control issues such as committee assignments. Rampant filibustering, the authors find, was the ironic result of the passage of 1960s civil rights legislation. No longer stigmatized as a white-supremacist tool, its use became routine, especially as the Senate became more partisan in the 1970s. Thoughtful and incisive, The American Senate: An Insider's History transforms our understanding of Congress's upper house.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This first-rate comprehensive study is likely to set the standard for historical scholarship on the US Senate. Chock-full of fascinating stores from insiders' perspectives, The American Senate is entertaining and engaging. The American Senate is a must read for any serious historian or political scientist, yet still accessible to the general public. Highly recommended." —CHOICE

"Whether discussing money and elections, campaign reform, the origins of the filibuster, the Senate's investigatory power or its role in ratifying treaties or debating the great issues of the day, the authors pack the narrative with wide-ranging information and anecdotes."
—Kirkus Reviews

"An excellent choice for history buffs and political scientists." —Library Journal

"A multidimensional study of the history, traditions and culture of the United States Senate... Whether discussing money and elections, campaign reform, the origins of the filibuster, the Senate's investigatory power or its role in ratifying treaties or debating the great issues of the day, the authors pack the narrative with wide-ranging information and anecdotes. A useful, engaging primer for anyone wishing to understand the politics, precedent and procedures that have shaped the Senate."—Kirkus Reviews

"The American Senate should be required reading for anyone new to the chamber: interns, staffers, even senators. There's unlikely to be another single volume quite as comprehensive anytime soon, a fact that can probably be attributed to the authors."
—Roll Call

"[A] thoroughly researched book by two veteran Senate observers . . . Baker has done a superb job of combining his deep knowledge of the Senate with that of McNeil, to complete it and illuminate the evolution of the upper chamber of Congress through the efforts of the more than 1,900 people who have served." —The Hill

Library Journal
Journalist MacNeil (chief congressional correspondent, TIME; Forge of Democracy: The House of Representatives) and Baker (former official historian, U.S. Senate; Traditions of the United States Senate) survey here "the world's greatest deliberative body," in which 1,950 senators have served over the past 200-plus years. There's potential for a vast, bewildering story, but the authors don't lose the forest amid the trees. Particularly strong are their accounts of presidential interaction with the Senate, starting with President Washington, who personally visited the Senate in accord with his constitutional mandate to get their "Advice and Consent" but never visited again. The authors explain the rise in power of the majority leader—a development from the tenure of Republican Robert A. Taft in the 1940s and later Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1950s, and how incremental changes have created what they call the mess that is the modern filibuster. Their book demonstrates that the Senate has always been a contentious place, where individual senators can hold the country's well-being hostage and inaction is the order of the day. The golden age of this legislative body exists only in the imagination, according to MacNeil and Baker. VERDICT Not a reform tract, but reading it one can't avoid thinking about how to "fix" the contemporary Senate. An excellent choice for history buffs and political scientists.—Michael O. Eshleman, Hobbs, NM
Kirkus Reviews
Two longtime observers of our government in action offer a multidimensional study of the history, traditions and culture of the United States Senate. Beginning with George Washington, the Senate has frustrated most presidents. Some, notably Woodrow Wilson, came to loathe the Congress' upper house, in good times the world's greatest deliberative body, in bad "the windiest and most tedious group of men in Christendom," as H.L. Mencken observed. However, as former Time chief congressional correspondent MacNeil (Dirksen: Portrait of a Public Man, 1971, etc.), who died in 2008, and former official Senate historian Baker (200 Notable Days: Senate Stories, 1787–2002, 2006, etc.) demonstrate, the framers fully intended many of the Senate's so-called infirmities even as other distinguishing features of the institution have evolved over its history. The built-in rivalry with the House of Representatives and the ongoing duel with the presidency for federal supremacy have been constants, but the chamber's manner of election, its composition and organization, its conduct of business and varying styles of leadership all have undergone thorough transformations. While its Constitutional role remains the same, the Senate has spoken through the years with varying degrees of authority and influence depending on the tenor of the times and the quality of its membership. Those members include some of our greatest statesmen and not a few rogues and racists, many of whom receive attention here. Whether discussing money and elections, campaign reform, the origins of the filibuster, the Senate's investigatory power or its role in ratifying treaties or debating the great issues of the day, the authors pack the narrative with wide-ranging information and anecdotes. A useful, engaging primer for anyone wishing to understand the politics, precedent and procedures that have shaped the Senate.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199339570
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
05/31/2013
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
697,769
File size:
4 MB

Meet the Author

Neil MacNeil, a founding member of the PBS program Washington Week, first began to cover the Senate in 1949, and served as Time magazine's chief congressional correspondent for thirty years. He was also the author of Forge of Democracy: The House of Representatives and Dirksen: Portrait of a Public Man. He died in 2008, as this work was nearing completion. Richard A. Baker was appointed the Senate's first official historian, a post he held from 1975 until his retirement in 2009. He produced a number of historical narratives, including 200 Notable Days: Senate Stories, 1787 to 2002 and Traditions of the United States Senate, and assisted Robert C. Byrd with The Senate, 1789-1989.

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