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Most significant Congressional Leaders in US History?

Most significant Congressional Leaders in US History?


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In all of US history, which Congressional marjority/minority leaders and speakers are considered historically important? For example, FDR and Lincoln are, for better or worse, considered historically important Presidents.


Probably the most famous and historically significant US Congressional leader was Henry Clay, who was a dominant, if not the dominant leader of the early 19th Century Congress. He was the founder and leader of the Whig party (one of the two main parties of the era), and was the driving force behind The Missouri Compromise and (as a Senator) The Compromise of 1850, both of which for a time defused major pre-Civil war Slavery crises.

The role of Speaker regained a lot of power in the mid 20'th Century under Sam Rayburn, but never really the same stature. During part of his tenure, his protege Lyndon Johnson asumed similar control of the Senate, producing a fairly imposing legislative partnership.


United States House Committee on Ways and Means

The Committee on Ways and Means is the chief tax-writing committee of the United States House of Representatives. The Committee has jurisdiction over all taxation, tariffs, and other revenue-raising measures, as well as a number of other programs including Social Security, unemployment benefits, Medicare, the enforcement of child support laws, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and foster care and adoption programs. Members of the Ways and Means Committee are not allowed to serve on any other House Committee unless they are granted a waiver from their party's congressional leadership. It has long been regarded as the most prestigious and most powerful committee in Congress. [1]

The United States Constitution requires that all bills regarding taxation must originate in the U.S. House of Representatives, and House rules dictate that all bills regarding taxation must pass through Ways and Means. This system imparts upon the committee and its members a significant degree of influence over other representatives, committees, and public policy. (See also, the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance.)

Recent chairmen have included Bill Thomas, Charlie Rangel, Sander Levin, Dave Camp, Paul Ryan and Kevin Brady. On January 3, 2019, Richard Neal was sworn in as the new Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means, upon the commencement of the 116th Congress. [2] He used his authority as chairman to formally request the tax returns of President Trump in April 2019, after Democrats had signaled their intention to do so on the midterms election night.


25 of the Most Influential Women in American History

Susan B. Anthony, whose grave in Rochester, New York, is pictured on Election Day 2016, is among the ladies who paved the way for women to have a place not only in the house, but the Senate. (Photo: Adam Fenster/Reuters /Newscom).

Women’s History Month, established in 1987, is a celebration of women’s efforts across the nation to make the world a better place for females.

Before the month is out, let’s not forget our female forefathers, um, that is foremothers. These are the ladies who paved the way for women to have a place not only in the house, but the Senate.

Here are 25 influential American women who continue to inspire us here at The Daily Signal, along with some recommended reading.

Except for a certain former Supreme Court justice, none of our choices are still alive. With one exception, we also have omitted the nation’s first ladies.

  1. Louisa May Alcott(1832-1888). Alcott worked to support her family through financial difficulties at an early age, and managed to write “ Little Women ,” one of the most famous novels in American history. Her other famous writings include “Little Men” and “Jo’s Boys.” (Recommended biography here .)
  2. Susan B. Anthony(1820-1906). Anthony played a pivotal role in the women’s suffrage movement. In 1878, she and co-workers presented an amendment to Congress that would give women the right to vote. In 1920, Sen. Aaron A. Sargent, R-Calif., introduced the bill and it was ratified as the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. (Recommended biography here .)
  3. Clara Barton(1821-1912). Barton founded the American Red Cross and served as its first president. She was a nurse during the Civil War for the Union Army. (Recommended biography here .)
  4. Nellie Bly(1864-1904). A journalist, she launched a new kind of investigative reporting. She is best known for her record-breaking trip around the world by ship in 72 days. (Recommended biography here .)
  5. Amelia Earhart(1897-1939). Earhart, the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, received the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross for her accomplishments. Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared in 1937 over the central Pacific Ocean while attempting to fly around the globe. (Recommended biography here .)
  6. Jessie Benton Fremont(1824-1902). Fremont was a writer and political activist. She was considered the brains behind her husband, John C. Fremont, and his famous exploration westward. She turned his notes into readable books and made connections in Washington, D.C., that eventually made him famous. (Recommended biography here .)
  7. Marguerite Higgins(1920-1966). Higgins was a reporter and war correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune during WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. She advanced the cause of equal opportunity for female war correspondents and was the first woman awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Foreign Correspondence in 1951. (Recommended biography here.)
  8. Grace Hopper(1906-1992). A computer scientist and Navy rear admiral, Hopper played an integral role in creating programs for some of the world’s first computers. (Recommended biography here .)
  9. Julia Ward Howe(1819-1910). Howe was a poet and author, her most famous work being “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” She was also a social activist for women’s suffrage. (Recommended biography here.)
  10. Harriet Jacobs(1813-1897). Jacobs, a writer, escaped slavery and later was freed. She published a novel, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” credited as the first to highlight the struggles of rape and sexual abuse within slavery. (Recommended biography here .)
  11. Barbara Jordan(1936-1996). Jordan was a lawyer, educator, politician, and civil rights movement leader. She was the first southern African-American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and the first African-American woman to give a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. (Recommended biography here.)
  12. Coretta Scott King(1927-2006). The wife, and later widow, of Martin Luther King Jr. played an important role in preserving the legacy of the civil rights leader. Following his assassination in 1968, she founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. She later lobbied for her late husband’s birthday to be recognized as a federal holiday. (Recommended biography here .)
  13. Clare Boothe Luce(1903-1987). Luce was an author, conservative politician, and U.S. ambassador to Italy and Brazil. She was the first woman appointed to an ambassadorial role abroad. Luce served in the House of Representatives from 1943-1974. (Recommended biography here .)
  14. Dolley Madison(1768-1849). Madison was the nation’s first lady during James Madison’s presidency from 1809-1817. She helped to furnish the newly reconstructed White House in 1814, after the invading British burned it to the ground, and is credited with saving the Lansdowne portrait of George Washington from the flames. (Recommended biography here .)
  15. Sandra Day O’Connor(1930-Present). A lawyer, O’Connor became a celebrated judge and eventually the first female justice on the Supreme Court, serving from 1981-2006. President Ronald Reagan appointed her. (Recommended biography here .)
  16. Rosa Parks(1913-2005). Parks was the most prominent female face of the civil rights movement. In December 1955, Parks refused to give up her seat in the “colored section” of a bus to a white man and was charged with civil disobedience. She is known as “the mother of the freedom movement.” (Recommended biography here .)
  17. Sally Ride(1951-2012). A physicist and astronaut, Ride joined NASA in 1978. Five years later, in 1983, she became the first American woman to go to outer space. (Recommended biography here .)
  18. Sacagawea(1788-1812). Sacagawea was a Lemhi Shoshone woman best known for her expedition with Lewis and Clark through the territory of the Louisiana Purchase. The Native American traveled from North Dakota to the Pacific Ocean with the explorers. (Recommended biography here .)
  19. Phyllis Schlafly(1924-2016). Schlafly was a constitutional lawyer and conservative political activist. She is best known for her critiques of radical feminism and her successful campaign against ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. (Recommended biography here .)
  20. Muriel F. Siebert(1928-2013). Known as “the first woman of finance,” Siebert was the first woman to head a firm traded on the New York Stock Exchange. (Recommended biography here .)
  21. Margaret Chase Smith(1897-1995). A Republican politician, Smith served in the House of Representatives from 1940-1949 and the Senate from 1949-1973. She was the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress. (Recommended biography here .)
  22. Harriet Beecher Stowe(1811-1896). The abolitionist and author’s most well-known work is the novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” which portrayed the impact of slavery on families and children. Its impact led to Stowe’s meeting with President Abraham Lincoln. (Recommended biography here .)
  23. Sojourner Truth(1797-1883). An abolitionist and women’s rights activist, Truth was born into slavery and escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826. She became best known for her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech on racial inequalities in 1851 at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention. (Recommended biography here .)
  24. Harriet Tubman(1820-1913). Tubman escaped from slavery in 1849 and became a famous “conductor” of the Underground Railroad. Tubman risked her life to lead hundreds of slaves to freedom using that secret network of safe houses. (Recommended biography here .)
  25. Mercy Otis Warren(1728-1814). Warren was a writer and propagandist of the American Revolution. She published poems and plays that attacked the British empire and urged colonists to resist Britain’s infringement on their rights. (Recommended biography here.)

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Of Presidents, Senators, and Members of Congress (Amendments 12, 17, 20, 22, 25, & 27)

The Twelfth Amendment (Proposed December 9, 1803 Adopted June 15, 1804) changed the way the President and the Vice President were elected. Previously, according to Article I, Section 1, Clause 3 of the Constitution, the individual at the end of the election with the most electoral votes became president, and the first runner up became Vice President. Well, this logic worked excellently until the election year of 1796 when Federalist candidate John Adams was chosen as second President of the United States, and his rival, Thomas Jefferson, became Vice President.

Because Congress feared this sort of development would inspire future "coups" where a Vice President would rise against the President so that he could take his place, the clause was amended. Instead of casting two ballots for the office of the President, electors now cast a single ballot for the President and another for the Vice President. It was a better solution for everybody.

Amendment Seventeen (Proposed May 13, 1912 Adopted April 8, 1913) established the direct election of senators by popular vote, thanks to the efforts of Progressives like William Jennings Bryan. Previously, in Article I, Section 3, Clauses 1-2 of the United States Constitution, Senators were elected by the legislatures of their states. The Progressives argued that this setup was leading to "legislative corruption" and "electoral deadlocks."

What these reformers were drawing attention to was the rising tendency of Senatorial elections to be "bought and sold," instead of being awarded for merit and competency (an issue brought to the silver screen by director Frank Capra in the film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.") Bribery, surprisingly enough, was not uncommon in early twentieth century politics.

The other issue, electoral deadlock, arose because the legislature simply couldn't agree on who to choose. The original method presupposed that they would able to agree on a candidate, but as the history of politics demonstrates, this wasn't likely. Even now, politicians rarely agree on anything. However, thanks to Amendment Seventeen, they no longer have to.

The Twentieth Amendment (Proposed March 2, 1932 Adopted January 23, 1933) to the United States Constitution shortened the length of time between election day and the beginning of Presidential and Congressional Terms. The Constitution originally provided four months of time between election and active service, with elections in November and terms not beginning until March 4.

In the last part of the Eighteenth century and the early part of the Nineteenth century, this allowed for new leaders to have enough time to prepare for a complete alteration in their lifestyle. As time went on, and transportation and technology became more readily accessible, this lapse of time was no longer entirely necessary. Instead, it became restrictive, as seen in the cases of Abraham Lincoln at the outbreak of the Civil War and Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the early days of the Great Depression.

Thus, Amendment Twenty reduced the frequency of "lame duck" issues in the Presidential, Vice Presidential, and Congressional Offices, and allowed new incumbents to handle any rising crises in a much faster than was before possible after the start of a new term.

The Twenty-Second Amendment (Proposed March 21, 1947 Adopted February 27, 1951) dictated term limits of the President, stating that no person shall be elected more than twice, and if they have already served for more than two years, they cannot be elected more than once. This was a precedent practiced by the Founding Fathers, most famously in the George Washington's Farewell Address of 1796. These men feared that if any man were to exceed two terms in office, it would give him the opportunity to become a despot, which is one of the things they were trying to avoid. They didn't want to leave too much power in the hands of single person.

Few presidents sought out a third term, and those who did (Ulysses Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, e.g.) were unsuccessful. It wasn't until Franklin D. Roosevelt that the United States had a president who would serve three terms. He had been elected to a fourth, but died in office before its completion. Amendment Twenty-two made it impossible for this to ever happen again.

Amendment Twenty-Five (Proposed July 6, 1965 Adopted February 10, 1967) handles the matter of succession to the Presidency and to the office of the Vice President. Although the issues of successeion had already been settled several times in practice (i.e. The "Tyler Precedent"), Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 remained unclear. The matter had been sitting on the table in Congress for some time, but as more instances of Presidential and Vice Presidential vacancies happened, the issue became a higher priority. Before the new amendment, the office of Vice President had been vacant sixteen times due to the death or resignation of either the President or Vice President, which is no small amount.

The Twenty-Seventh Amendment (proposed September 25, 1789 Adopted May 7, 1992) was one of the earliest Amendments to be proposed, but is the very last to be adopted. James Madison was the one who first proposed the amendment, but since the document had no "expiration date" the States could ultimately ratify it at any point, which eventually they did.

This rationale was backed by the decision of the 1939 case Coleman v. Miller which decided that unless a proposed amendment specified a ratification deadline, it would be open inevitably. Thus, Amendment Twenty-Seven, clarifying that Congressional salaries would not go into effect until the beginning of the next set of terms, was enacted 203 years after it was first proposed.


Stamp Act

In 1765, Great Britain passed the first of a series of taxes to help pay for the growing costs of defending the American colonies. The Stamp Act of 1765 required American colonists to pay a small tax on every piece of paper they used.

Colonists viewed the Stamp Act𠅊n attempt by England to raise money in the colonies without approval from colonial legislatures𠅊s a troublesome precedent.

Patrick Henry responded to the Stamp Act with a series of resolutions introduced to the Virginia legislature in a speech. The resolves, adopted by the Virginia legislature, were soon published in other colonies, and helped to articulate America’s stance against taxation without representation under the British Crown. The resolves declared that Americans should be taxed only by their own representatives and that Virginians should pay no taxes except those voted on by the Virginia legislature.

Later in the speech, Henry flirted with treason when he hinted that the King risked suffering the same fate as Julius Caesar if he maintained his oppressive policies.


Major Mob Busts in US History

1936: Brothel bust unlucky for Luciano
The organized crime network known as the American Mafia or La Cosa Nostra (Italian for “our thing”) took shape during the Prohibition era of the 1920s, when Italian-American gangs in major cities like New York and Chicago dominated the booming bootleg liquor business. By the 1930s, it had come under the control of mob boss Charles “Lucky” Luciano, who established a commission to oversee the Mafia’s various racketeering activities and keep the peace among its constituent crime families.

The canny and influential Luciano, who had earned his nickname by barely surviving an assassination attempt, met his match in Thomas E. Dewey, a future New York governor and presidential candidate who in 1936 was a special prosecutor investigating organized crime. On February 1 of that year, Dewey led an evening raid on 80 New York City brothels that were believed to be part of a massive Mafia-controlled prostitution ring. By midnight, plainclothes cops had brought 125 prostitutes, madams and bookers to his offices in Manhattan’s Woolworth Building.

Dewey and his team—which included Eunice Carter, the first African-American woman to serve as a New York assistant district attorney𠅌onvinced 68 of the women to testify against Luciano and his associates. Witnesses included such memorable characters as Cokey Flo Brown, who recalled Luciano pledging to “organize cathouses just like the A&P [supermarket chain].” The famous mobster was charged with 62 counts of compulsory prostitution and sentenced to 30 to 50 years in prison. Nonetheless, he continued to play a key role in La Cosa Nostra’s management structure while behind bars and after his 1946 deportation to Italy.

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1957: Curious cop foils Mafiosi meeting
By the mid-1950s, escalating tensions between rival Mafia factions threatened to erupt into a full-blown gang war. Hoping to extinguish flames and make a power play in the process, New York boss Vito Genovese arranging a meeting of top Mafiosi from the United States, Canada and Italy. On November 14, 1957, more than 100 Cosa Nostra VIPs assembled at the home of mobster Joseph “Joe the Barber” Barbara in Apalachin, New York, a sleepy hamlet near the Pennsylvania border. They intended to hash out a plan for controlling imports and exports, gambling, casinos and narcotics distribution in New York City and across the country.

This ambitious agenda fell by the wayside when a local cop named Edgar Croswell, who𠆝 had his eye on Apalachin’s resident gangster for months, noticed a fleet of luxury vehicles with out-of-state license plates parked outside Barbara’s home. He summoned other state troopers to the scene. Panicked mobsters in fancy suits abandoned their steak dinners and fanned out across the 53-acre estate, tossing their guns and cash as they ran for cover. Others sped off in their cars only to be stopped by a police roadblock and apprehended. Up to 50 men escaped that day, but another 58 were taken into custody. All insisted they had come to Apalachin simply to wish an ailing friend well�rbara had recently suffered a heart attack and would die of another one in June 1959𠄺nd were eventually released.

While the raid was an embarrassment for both law enforcement and the meeting’s participants, it contributed to the public’s growing awareness that an organized racketeering network led by Italian-American mobsters was operating nationwide. (The concept had first been introduced in 1950, when Senator Estes Kefauver and other members of the U.S. Senate Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce interviewed hundreds of witnesses on live television.) The Apalachin incident also resulted in increased scrutiny and indictments of the Mafia’s leadership: Less than two weeks later, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who until then had publicly downplayed La Cosa Nostra, launched the “Top Hoodlum” program to investigate its activities.

1985-1986: Giuliani crushes Five Families’ finest
In the 1960s and 1970s, a series of developments paved the way for the U.S. government to pursue mobsters more aggressively and on a larger scale. First, in 1963, convicted New York mobster Joseph Valachi broke La Cosa Nostra’s sacred code of silence to become an informant, revealing key details about its structure and customs. In 1968 Congress passed a law allowing wiretap evidence in federal courts, providing investigators with a vital (and controversial) weapon in their war against organized crime. Two years later, it passed the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, which allows for prosecutions against criminal organizations and the seizure of their assets.

Armed with these new tools, future New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, then a federal prosecutor, masterminded the indictment of 11 Mafia leaders, including the heads of New York’s five dominant crime families, in February 1985. The case against them relied on bugs planted in strategic locations–such as the dashboard of a Jaguar owned by Lucchese family chief Anthony “Tony Ducks” Corallo–over the course of a four-year investigation. Eight of the original defendants stood trial together and were convicted in November 1986.

Known as the Mafia Commission Trial, the case marked a turning point in prosecutors’ approach to 𠇌rushing” La Cosa Nostra, as Giuliani put it. Rather than hunting down an individual capo (boss) or underboss, who would quickly be replaced by the next in line, they would seek to dismantle entire chains of command.

1985-1987: Sicilian upper crust burned in Pizza Connection
These days, it’s an unassuming pizza-by-the-slice joint on a busy Queens street. Some 30 years ago, it was the center of an international, Mafia-controlled drug ring that imported an estimated $1.65 billion in heroin from Southwest Asia to the United States and used pizza parlors as fronts. Needless to say, Al Dente Pizzeria is now under new management.

One of the longest criminal trials to ever take place in Manhattan, the so-called “Pizza Connection” case lasted from October 1985 to March 1987. Prosecutors led by future FBI director Louis Freeh made the case that Sicilian mobsters were smuggling millions of dollars worth of heroin and cocaine into the United States, where it was then distributed by members of the New York-based Bonanno crime family. The trial ended in the convictions of 18 men, including the Pizza Connection’s alleged architect, Sicilian crime boss Gaetano Badalamenti, who was sentenced to 45 years in prison and died in 2004 at age 80.

Joseph Pistone, the FBI special agent who famously infiltrated the Bonanno crime family using the alias Donnie Brasco, learned of the operation while undercover and brought it to the attention of the bureau. He also provided key testimony during the trial.

1990-1992: Teflon Don is done
One of the most recognized gangsters in the history of organized crime in America, John Joseph Gotti Jr. rose through the ranks of the Gambino crime family and seized power after ordering the December 1985 murder of then-boss Paul Castellano outside a Manhattan steakhouse. Behind closed doors, Gotti was a ruthless, controlling figure, whose ability to elude conviction earned him his reputation as “the Teflon Don.” Publicly, he became a tabloid celebrity, famous for his swagger and expensive suits, which earned him another nickname, “the Dapper Don.”

After winning three acquittals during the 1980s, Gotti’s luck ran out in 1990. On December 11, detectives raided the Ravenite Social Club, his headquarters in New York City’s Little Italy neighborhood, arresting Gotti, his underboss Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano and Gambino consigliere Frank 𠇏rankie Loc” LoCascio. The ensuing trial, which started in January 1992, created a media frenzy. Gravano made a deal with the government and testified in court against his boss, admitting to 19 murders, 10 of them sanctioned by Gotti. In addition, prosecutors presented secret taped conversations that incriminated Gotti.

After deliberating for 13 hours, the jury, which had been kept anonymous and sequestered during the trial, came back with a verdict on April 2, 1992, finding Gotti guilty on all counts. In the wake of the conviction, the assistant director of the FBI’s New York office, James Fox, was quoted as saying, “The don is covered in Velcro, and every charge stuck.” The mob boss was sent to the U.S. Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, where he was held in virtual solitary confinement. On June 10, 2002, Gotti died of throat cancer at age 61 at a Springfield, Missouri, medical center for federal prisoners.

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Contents

The Continental Congresses Edit

Although one can trace the history of the Congress of the United States to the First Continental Congress, which met in the autumn of 1774, [2] the true antecedent of the United States Congress was convened on May 10, 1775 with twelve colonies in attendance. A year later, on July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress declared the thirteen colonies free and independent states, referring to them as the "United States of America." The Second Continental Congress was the national government until March 1, 1781, supervised the war and diplomacy, and adopted the Articles of Confederation before the States ratified it in 1781. One common term for patriot was "Congress Man"—a supporter of Congress against the King. [ citation needed ] The Congress of the Confederation governed the United States for eight years (March 1, 1781 to March 4, 1789). There was no chief executive or president before 1789, so Congress governed the United States.

Congresses of the Confederation Edit

The Articles of Confederation was written in 1776, and came into effect in 1781. This established a weak central government, with only a unicameral body, in which each state was equally represented and each had a veto over most actions. There was no executive or judicial branch. This congress was given limited authority over foreign affairs and military matters, but not to collect taxes, regulate interstate commerce, or enforce laws. [3] This system of government did not work well, with economic fights among the states, and an inability to suppress rebellion or guarantee the national defense. [3]

Annapolis became the temporary capital of the United States after the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Congress was in session in the state house from November 26, 1783, to June 3, 1784, and it was in Annapolis on December 23, 1783, that General Washington resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army.

For the 1783 Congress, the Governor of Maryland commissioned, John Shaw, a local cabinet maker, to create an American flag. [4] The flag is slightly different from other designs of the time. The blue field extends over the entire height of the hoist. Shaw created two versions of the flag: one which started with a red stripe and another that started with a white one.

In 1787, a convention, to which delegates from all the states of the Union were invited, was called to meet in Annapolis to consider measures for the better regulation of commerce but delegates came from only five states (New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Jersey, and Delaware), and the convention, known afterward as the "Annapolis Convention", without proceeding to the business for which it had met, passed a resolution calling for another convention to meet at Philadelphia in the following year to amend the Articles of Confederation. The Philadelphia convention drafted and approved the Constitution of the United States, which is still in force.

The United States Congress Edit

In May 1787, a Convention met in the Philadelphia State House for the purpose of resolving problems with the Articles of Confederation. Instead, the Articles were scrapped entirely and a new Constitution was drafted. [3] All states agreed to send delegates, except Rhode Island. One of the most divisive issues facing the Convention was the way which structure of Congress would be defined. The practice of having "two-house" bicameral legislatures (bicameral from the Latin camera meaning chamber) was well established in state governments by 1787. [5] Edmund Randolph's Virginia Plan argued for a bicameral Congress the lower house would be elected directly by the people whereas the upper house would be elected by the lower house. [6] [7] The plan attracted support of delegates from large states as it called for representation based on population. The smaller states, however, favored the New Jersey Plan, which had a unicameral Congress with equal representation for the states. [8] Arguments between federalists and anti-federalists about congressional scope, power, role, and authority happened before ratification of the Constitution and continue, to varying extents, to the present day. Generally, the Constitution gave more powers to the federal government, such as regulating interstate commerce [9] [10] [ citation needed ] , managing foreign affairs and the military, and establishing a national currency. These were seen as essential for the success of the new nation and to resolve the disputes that had arisen under the Articles of Confederation, but the states retained sovereignty over other affairs. [11] Eventually, a "compromise", known as the Connecticut Compromise or the Great Compromise was settled one house of Congress would provide proportional representation, whereas the other would provide equal representation. To preserve further the authority of the states, the compromise proposed that state legislatures, rather than the people, would elect senators. [12]

To protect against abuse of power at the federal level, the Constitution mandated separation of powers, with responsibilities divided among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The Constitution was ratified by the end of 1788, and its full implementation was set for March 4, 1789. [13] [14] [15]

The Constitution defines the Senate as having two senators for each state in the Union. The size of the House of Representatives is based on the number of states and their populations. The numerical size of the House is set by law, not by the Constitution. The House grew in size as states were admitted throughout the 19th century, and as the nation grew in population. Since the Constitution allows for one representative for as few as 30,000 citizens, Congress passed new, higher limits for the House, which grew in size until a law passed in 1911, based on the National Census of 1910, established the present upper limit of 435 members of the House. [16] Since the House's size was fixed but the population kept growing, instead of a congressperson representing only 30,000 citizens (as the Constitution had previously established), a congressperson represents 600,000 and more persons. [17] There have also been and continue to be a small number of non-voting members who represent U.S. territories.

1790s Edit

The Constitution remained the main issue for Americans until the 1792 elections, consisting of a battle between the U.S. Federalist Party (Pro-Administration Party), which supported the Constitution and the Anti-Federalist Party (Anti-Administration Party), which opposed the Constitution. After the first Congressional and Presidential elections took place in 1789, the Federalists had control over US Congress. Between 1792 and 1800 the struggle over Congress came between Alexander Hamilton's Federalist Party- which was popular through the successful First Bank of the United States, until 1792- and Thomas Jefferson's Democratic Republican Party. Jefferson's party managed to finally gain control over the US House of Representatives after the 1792 elections, thanks in part to one of the top Federalists, James Madison, uniting with moderate Jefferson and prominent Anti-Federalists to form the Democratic Republican Party, as Madison became an opposer to Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton's First Bank of the United States. In 1794, however, the Democratic Republican Party lost control of the United States Senate, thanks in part to the party's opposition to Jay's Treaty. In 1796, the Democratic Republican Party would also lose control of the United States House of Representatives, due to the party's support of the unpopular French Revolution, [18] though the Democratic Republican Party still could obtain second place victories in these elections- which made Jefferson the US Vice President- as well Washington, however, was supported by almost every American, and even though he ran under the Federalist ticket, he still was not an official Federalist and was easily re-elected U.S. President unanimously in 1792 as well, and John Adams- an actual Federalist who was also elected United States President in 1796- was elected Vice President (President of the Senate) on the Federalist ticket with Washington as well.

Early nineteenth century Edit

The early 19th century was marked by frequent clashes between the House of Representatives and the Senate. After victory in the 1800 US elections, Jefferson's Democratic-Republican Party dominated both the US Senate and US House of Representatives, as well as the presidential elections this was because states' rights became a popular issue after the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions outlawed the Federalists Alien and Sedition Acts. [19]

Federalists, after having lost the presidency and Congress, had a stronghold in the Supreme Court, presided over by chief justice John Marshall. One highly partisan justice, Samuel Chase, had irked president Jefferson by highly charged partisan attacks on his character, calling him a "Jacobin". Jefferson, after becoming president, urged Congress to impeach Chase. The House initiated impeachment in late 1804, and the Senate tried but acquitted him, partially on the realization that while Chase's actions had been reprehensible, it was more important to preserve an independent judiciary. The congressional action had the effect of chastening the Supreme Court whose members, from that point on, generally, refrained from open character attacks on members of Congress and the president, and limited their criticisms to the judicial aspects of congressional and presidential decisions. Chase was the only Supreme Court justice impeached by Congress. [20]

Henry Clay of Kentucky was the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, and dominant leader over Congress, during the 1810s. A careful numerical balance between the free North and the slave holding South existed in the Senate, as the numbers of free and slave states was kept equal by a series of compromises, such as the Missouri Compromise of 1820. That broke down in 1850 when California was admitted as a free state, but the Compromise of 1850 postponed a showdown. Meanwhile, the North was growing faster and dominated the House of Representatives, despite the rule that counted 3/5 of non-voting slaves in the population base of the South.

1820s and beyond Edit

The victory of John Quincy Adams in 1824 was challenged by Andrew Jackson, who argued a corrupt bargain between Clay and Adams had cheated Jackson Jackson led both electoral votes and popular votes, but had no majority in the electoral college. Clay strongly opposed Jackson's "total war" policy (Jackson's unauthorized invasion of the Spanish colony of Florida was criticized in Congress––Jackson was the victorious general of the Battle of New Orleans). Clay gave his votes in the House of Representatives to the candidate who was closest to Jackson in terms of both electoral votes and popular votes, namely, John Quincy Adams. Jackson and his (as yet unnamed) followers easily dominated the 1826 Congressional Election and took complete control of the 20th United States Congress. As the Second Party System emerged, the Whigs and Jacksonians (called "Democrats" by 1834) battled for control of Congress. In the 1832 Senate elections, the National Republican party, which was the main party that opposed Andrew Jackson, gained control of the US Senate after President Jackson broke with his Vice-President John Calhoun, and gained Senate seats in parts of the Southern US, and maintained control over Senate until 1835, when Jackson's popular bank policies could help the Democrats regain control of Congress again in the 1834 Congressional elections this break between Jackson and Calhoun was over whether or not South Carolina could avoid the Tariff of 1828, which Calhoun strongly opposed, and resulted in Calhoun's new Nullifier Party eventually uniting with Henry Clay's National Republican Party, and other opponents of Andrew Jackson, to form the US Whig Party in 1834.

The Whigs swept into power in 1840, thanks in later part to the fact that President Martin Van Buren became unpopular after he continued to fail at bringing the US out of the depression started by the Panic of 1837 [21] Van Buren would even lose in his home state of New York. [22] Following the death of President William Henry Harrison in 1841, John Tyler became president and soon broke bitterly with Clay, and the Whigs in Congress, after he continuously vetoed Clay and the Whig Party's bills for a national banking act in 1841. As a result, Tyler's supporters helped give the Democrats control of the United States House of Representatives in the 1842 Congressional elections.

Democrats regained control of Congress in the 1844 elections, as well, thanks to the huge support of the annexation of Texas, [23] as the 29th United States Congress, but the Whigs were back in control of both houses in 1846, thanks in part to the opposition of the Mexican–American War. The Democrats were able to regain control of Congress in 1848, thanks in part to the U.S. winning the Mexican–American War. The Democrats now had complete control over the 31st United States Congress, despite the break between the anti-slavery (Free Soil Party) and pro slavery Democrats because of this break, the Democrats would not maintain the U.S. presidency, and Whig Party member Zachary Taylor was elected the 12th President of the United States in the 1848 U.S. presidential election. [24] In 1852, the divide between the pro-slavery southern Wings (who threw their support to Democratic candidate Franklin Pierce and broke with Henry Clay over the Compromise of 1850) and the anti-slavery Northern (who stood behind Clay's compromise and supported the party's nominee Winfield Scott) would also help give the Democrats not only control both houses of Congress, but also the US Presidency as well. [25] In the 1854 elections, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, sponsored by Senator Stephen Douglas, was put against vehement opposition. The opposition to this act led to the formation of the new Republican party. In early 1856, the Know Nothing Party assembled nativists and former Whigs but the Democrats regained control over Congress. During this time the Know Nothing Party and Republican Party united and together, elected Know Nothing Congressman Nathaniel Prentice Banks, as to serve as the Speaker of the House of Representatives for the remaining years of the 34th United States Congress.

Through the 35th United States Congress, the Democrats regained control of both houses in Congress this thanks in part to the division of the Know-Nothing Party and the Republican Party during the 1856 U.S. presidential election. [26] The Know Nothings soon collapsed, and in the North were absorbed by the Republicans, who dominated most states and took control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1858 elections, as abolitionist Know Nothings joined the Republican Party after the controversial Dred Scott ruling occurred in 1857. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln led the Republicans to a victory based entirely in the anti-slavery North, and the Republican Party now took full control of Congress.

Civil War and aftermath Edit

Congress played a major role in the American Civil War, as the Republicans were in control of both chambers after the war ended in 1865, Reconstruction was controlled by President Andrew Johnson, who broke with the Radical Republicans (led by Congressman Thaddeus Stevens and Senator Charles Sumner.) After the elections of 1866 the Radicals came to power, impeached (but did not convict) President Johnson, and controlled Reconstruction policy. The Radical hold was broken by the Democratic landslide victories in the election of 1874, and Democrats regained control of the US House of Representatives, this was thanks in part to the Long Depression started by the Panic of 1873. The Democrats would continue to dominate the US House of Representatives, and even gained control of the US Senate in the 1878 US Senate election as the depression worsened.

The Gilded Age (1877–1901) was marked by Republican dominance of Congress—and the Presidency— except in the early years, and some of the mid-years of the Gilded Age-, despite the Democratic lock on the Solid South. The Republican Party, however, would regain control over the US House of Representatives in the 1880 election, as support for the Republican Party's tariff spread among the general public [27] the Panic of 1873 had also ended for the US in 1879, with the start of the vast immigration into the US that lasted until 1930. State legislatures continued to elect senators, which meant that the most powerful politicians in the state vied for control of the legislature in order to win election to the Senate. The Democrats, however, retained control of the United States Senate in the 1880 US Senate election, as Virginia's Readjuster Party member William Mahone and Illinois' Independent Party member David Davis were both elected to the US Senate. Both men chose to caucus with the Democrats, thus giving the Democratic Party a 39–37 control of the Senate during the 47th United States Congress.

With support for the Republican Party now had for rebounding the United States economy with the tariff of the party's US President James Garfield (who was assassinated in late 1881), the Republicans would see themselves take back control over the US Senate in the 1882 US Senate elections. While the Republican Party was now in control of both houses of Congress once again, it wouldn't last for long at all. President Arthur became unpopular within after turning on Roscoe Conkling and the Stalwarts and supported civil reform. In some cases, Senate elections were tainted by corruption and bribery. In other instances, gridlock between the two houses of state legislatures prevented the election of a senator. (In one acute case, deadlock prevented the Delaware legislature from sending a senator to Washington for four years.) These issues were resolved by the Seventeenth Amendment (ratified in 1913), which provided for the direct popular election of senators. With former Speaker of the House of Representatives James Blaine (who served as the Republican Party's nominee during the 1884 US Presidential election) tainted by the Mulligan Letters, the Republicans would lose control of the US House of Representatives, as well as the Presidency, in 1884. [28]

In 1888, New York's support for the Republican Party's tariff policies helped Republicans retake control over the US House of Representatives once again, through the state of New York. The Democrats were able to regain control over the US House of Representatives after the Republican Party lost support after President Benjamin Harrison continued to spend money from the US Treasury to try to help American businesses that were suffering from the high US tariffs, in the 1890 elections, as well as also regaining the Presidency and US Senate in 1892, as opposition to President Harrison's tariffs grew. [29] The Republicans however would regain control over Congress in the 1894 Congressional election after President Cleveland and the Democrats continued to fail at bringing the US out of the depression started by the Panic of 1893 William McKinley also being elected US President in 1896 brought the US out of the depression started by the Panic of 1893, through his support of both big businesses [30] and high tariffs, and officially began the Progressive Era.

The Progressive Era Edit

The Progressive Era (1896–1932) witnessed the rise of strong party leadership in both houses of Congress. In the House of Representatives, the office of Speaker became extremely powerful under Thomas Reed in 1890, reaching its zenith under the Republican Joseph Gurney Cannon. The Senate was controlled by a half dozen men, including Republicans Nelson Aldrich and Mark Hanna. A revolt against Speaker Cannon in 1910, led by George Norris, strengthened the seniority system and made long-serving Congressmen more independent of party. Committee chairmen remained particularly strong in both houses until the reforms of the 1970s.

In 1901, President William McKinley was assassinated and his Vice-President, Theodore Roosevelt, succeeded him. As President, Roosevelt changed the Republicans image to be more progressive than pro-business. [31] During his Presidency, which lasted between the years 1901 and 1909, Roosevelt became arguably the strongest leader of the entire Progressive Era. [31] However, Roosevelt's successor, William Howard Taft, did not continue Roosevelt's progressive policies, and this resulted in a major break between the conservative (pro-Taft) and progressive (pro-Roosevelt) Republicans. [32] In the 1910 midterm elections, gave the Democrats would regain control over the US House of Representatives once again, after the Panic of 1910–11 further shattered these uneasy relations between the conservative and progressive Republicans.

Structural changes Edit

There were two important structural changes to Congress around the turn of the 20th century:

  • Direct election of senators. Senators were chosen not by state governments but by direct election, according to the Seventeenth Amendment. [12] Author David Kyvig saw this as a positive development since "senators became much more sensitive to public opinion in their state", [12] but advocates of states rights saw direct election of senators as undermining the authority of state governments within the national government and harming the principle of federalism. Congress has also been criticized for siding with the Supreme Court to undermine the ability of state governments to regulate their respective economies critics see a pattern of interpreting congressional power "expansively" according to such cases as Wickard v. Filburn (1942) and Gonzales v. Raich (2005). [33] However, in two cases, United States v. Lopez (1995) and United States v. Morrison (2000), the Supreme Court rejected arguments that the commerce clause allowed Congress to "regulate noneconomic activities merely because, through a chain of causal effects, they might have an economic impact." [33] The effect of the change to popular election of senators was to reduce the difference between the House and Senate in terms of their link to the electorate. [34]
  • Lame duck reforms. The Twentieth Amendment was a positive reform which ended the power of lame-duck congresspersons who were defeated or retiring members who remained in office for a while despite their lack of accountability to the public. [35]

The break between the conservative and progressive Republicans in the 1912 US Presidential Election also greatly helped the Democrats regain the Presidency and complete control over Congress [36] even after the Republican Party reunited in the 1914 Congressional elections, the Republican Party could not regain control of Congress, thanks to the strong popularity Wilson had obtained with his New Freedom policy. However, President Wilson's failure to protect the neutral rights of the American people helped the Republicans obtain more seats in the US House of Representatives than the Democrats in the 1916 election [37] however, Wilson was able to maintain his Presidency after he won in the state of California for his opposition to the US entering the Great War. Despite this, Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives Champ Clark maintained his position, after the some of Progressive Party members of the US House of Representatives agreed to caucus with the Democrats Clark would maintain his position as United States Speaker of the House until 1919. [38] By the 1918 Congressional elections, many American men were overseas fighting in the Great War (later known as World War I), and with the American voting public wanting the war- which the US entered under Democratic US President Woodrow Wilson- to end, the Republicans, whom former US President Theodore Roosevelt had now strongly backed, [39] easily managed to regain control of the US Senate in this election, as well as control of the US Congress, as the Democratic Party's popularity decreased because of President Wilson's war efforts.

Following the end of the war, the Wilson administration was plagued with numerous problems such as: 1) the large support against President Wilson's support for US membership into the League of Nations (which was regarded by the American public as an organization that could have introduced a German-American relationship)- [40] 2) the massive Steel Strike of 1919 [41] 3) race riots, and 4) the growing support among the American public, who now feared Communists would infiltrate the country, to reduce immigration. As a result, the Republican party would obtain a firmer majority control of both Congressional houses, in the 1920 congressional election, and score a heavy win the 1920 US Presidential Election as well [42] Republican Presidential candidate Warren Harding, a pro-laissez faire conservative, would also receive a record-breaking percent of the popular vote as well. [43] However, the Harding administration could not bring the economy back to normal. [44] Although the Republicans were able to retain control of both houses of Congress, [44] the conservative Republicans (whom Harding backed) would suffer major losses. [44]

In 1923, Harding, now tainted further by scandals, [45] died and his vice-president, Calvin Coolidge, became president. Under Coolidge, the economy revived and the conservatives regained control of US Congress in 1924 [46] In general, the Republicans retained control of Congress until 1931, after 19 Republicans in the US House of Representatives died and Democrats took their places in the special elections- after Republican President Herbert Hoover had continuously failed to get the US out of the Great Depression.

The Great Depression Edit

On October 29, 1929, a day known in history as Black Tuesday, the New York Stock Exchange experienced a significant crash and the United States, as well as most of the world, would enter a major recession. [47] In response, President Herbert Hoover and the Republican Congress passed the Smoot Hawley Tariff Act. However, it has been recognized that this act only made economic condition far worse. [47] The 1930 midterm election saw the Republicans barely maintain control of the US House of Representatives and US Senate. [48] [49] Shortly after the 1930 midterm election, however, special elections were held to replace 19 House of Representative-elects who died, and Democrats would gain a four-seat majority in the US House of Representatives as a result of the outcome of these elections. [50] In the 1932 US Senate elections, the Democrats easily regained control over the US Senate once again this 1932 election also saw Franklin Roosevelt get elected US President as well, and Roosevelt could now begin his historic New Deal policies through the Democrat-dominated US Congress, and could bring the US out of the Great Depression for four years.

Franklin D. Roosevelt's election as president in 1932 marked a shift in power towards the presidency. Numerous New Deal initiatives were proposed from the White House and sent to Congress for approval, rather than legislation originating in Congress. [51] During the long administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933 to 1945), the Democratic Party controlled both houses of Congress. As a result, the Democrats obtained 60 of the 96 existing Senate seats [52] and 318 of the existing 435 House seats [52] hence the party now controlled two-thirds of Congress. The Democrats would continue to maintain this two-thirds control for the next six years. [52] [53] While the Democrats still managed to maintain control of Congress after the 1938 elections, the Republicans––taking advantage of the Recession of 1937––were able to gain 81 seats in the House of Representatives and 6 seats in the Senate after the election, making it difficult for the Democrats to continue expanding New Deal programs. [54] Despite the Republican gains, the 1938 elections maintained a 72% Democratic majority in the Senate and a 60% Democratic majority in the House. [54] [55] Since the filibuster rule applies only in the Senate, Democrats maintained a filibuster-proof majority after the 1938 elections despite having lost 6 seats. Republicans gained the psychological satisfaction of making a credible comeback––from oblivion––in the 1938 elections, but the Democrats maintained solid numbers. During this time, Republicans and conservative Democrats from the South (who were backed by Vice President John Nance Garner) [56] formed a unity known as the Conservative Coalition and were able to reduce the two-thirds majority of New Dealers on the United States House Committee on Rules [54] hence the two-thirds "rule-change" requirement was erased for the New Dealers. [54] The 1938 Congressional election also saw the reduction of New Dealers on United States House Committee on Ways and Means as well. [54]

In 1940, however, the pro-Roosevelt northern Democrats were able to regain firm control of Congress once again. [57] In 1942, after the United States entered World War II and voter turnout significantly decreased, Democrats maintained control of both houses of Congress, but the Republicans were able to make significant gains in the Congressional election [58] hence, the conservatives won the election [59] and were able to gain control of both houses of Congress. [58] Despite this, Democratic Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn and Senate majority leader Alben Barkley, both allies of Roosevelt, [60] [61] were able to maintain their positions. By the 1944 Congressional elections, Roosevelt had been glorified as a heroic wartime leader, and as a result, he was elected to a fourth term and the pro-Roosevelt Democrats would once more regain control of both the United States House of Representatives [62] and the United States Senate [63]

Postwar era Edit

Congress struggled with efficiency in the postwar era. In 1945, two members led an effort to trim the number of congressional committees from 81 to 34 and required lobbyists to register. [64]

In the 1946 US Congressional election, the Republicans regained control of both the US Senate and US House of Representatives, as a result of President Truman failing to handle the vast post-war labor strikes. [65] The Democrats were able to retake control of Congress in 1948, thanks to the widespread support Democratic President Harry Truman gained from rural communities after he pledged to repeal the Taft-Hartley Act [66] with this victory, the conservative coalition was also defeated and the liberal Democrats regained control of Congress. [67] The week prior the 1950 mid-term elections, China had agreed to provide combat assistance to North Korea throughout the remainder of the Korean War [68] and the American public became more dissatisfied with Truman's war policy [69] the Conservative Coalition (now led by Republican Senator Robert A. Taft) [70] regained control of the Senate. [71] This victory would give the Southern Democrats control of 13 of 19 Congressional committees [72] and Democratic Senator Ernest McFarland, a conservative who opposed Truman's Fair Deal, [73] became the Senate Majority Leader. [74] In 1952, Republican candidate, and decorated World War II general, Dwight Eisenhower was elected President by a landslide vote, as people thought Truman was too soft on Communism and unable to end the Korean War. [75] [76] With his victory, Eisenhower was able to give the Republican Party control of both houses of Congress as well. [75] With Republican Eisenhower's election to the presidency in 1952, Republicans again won both houses.

After the 1954 Congressional elections, the Democratic Party now dominated both houses of Congress until 1994 [77] The Democrats regained control of Congress in 1954, as a result of the high rate of unemployment that had now spread throughout the United States [78] [79] and high disapproval of Republican US Senator Joseph McCarthy. [80] While the Conservative Coalition was still able to maintain the most seats in Congress, [81] liberal Democratic Congressman Sam Rayburn regained his position as Speaker of the House [79] and liberal Democratic US Senator Lyndon Johnson became the Senate Majority leader. [79] Two years later, however, President Eisenhower would again score another huge victory in the 1956 US Presidential Election, thanks in part to the support he received from a large number of Americans for condemning the Suez Canal seizure (which, in turn, prevented an escalation in tensions with the Soviet Union), and supporting both the Hungarian Revolution and Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ruling. Despite this huge victory, Eisenhower could not give the Republican Party control of Congress again however, the conservative coalition still maintained a Congressional majority. [81] In 1958, after the United States entered a recession, the Conservative Coalition lost control of Congress. [82] This election would give the liberal Democrats a filibuster-proof majority in the US Senate as well. [82] In 1960, Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy won the US Presidential election by a narrow margin, and the balance of power shifted to the Democrats. Between the years 1961 and 1969, the Democrats (through US Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson) maintained their majority.

In 1964, with the success of President Johnson's Great Society policies, the Democrats regained enough seats in Congress to secure a two-thirds, veto-proof majority once again [83] this victory would severely cripple the Conservative Coalition as well. [84] Afterwards, the Republicans agreed to take a less conservative platform and become more moderate. [85] The nation was becoming huge, complex, multi-faceted, and required additional efforts to try to streamline Congress in 1965, a senator discussed how issues such as space and atomic energy were overshadowing less complex matters such as which towns got new post offices, and demanded the institution change with the times. [64] 1966 saw the Republicans erase the two-thirds veto-proof majority after minor inflation occurred nationwide from the Great Society policies. [86] By 1968, Johnson's continuation of the Vietnam War had become highly unpopular nationwide. [87] As a result, Republican Presidential candidate Richard Nixon, who promised to reform Johnson's war policy, [87] was elected US President (in yet another closely contested election) [87] and the Democrats lost their ten-year filibuster-proof majority in the United States Senate. [88] Despite this, however, the Democrats were still able to maintain a wide majority of the seats in the US House of Representatives. [89] and the US Senate [88]

The Democrats continued to hold a fair majority after the 1970 Congressional elections as well, despite Republican gains. In 1972, Richard Nixon also set an electoral college record, by winning 49 states, after he gained popularity by: 1) establishing diplomacy with China 2) organizing the SALT arms treaty with the Soviet Union and 3) convincing the public that the Vietnam War was about over. [90] Despite this, the Democrats still maintained a majority of seats in Congress. [90]

The return of partisanship Edit

Generally the next fifty years were marked by slim majorities in Congress, which some thinkers believe has led to more intense partisanship, and reflects a decline in an era when lawmakers from both sides of the aisle met in friendly discussions in an informally dubbed ground floor room in the Capitol called the Board of Education. It was a place where lawmakers found ways to discuss, deal, compromise, and agree on national problems in a bipartisan fashion. =) [91] Since the mid nineteen fifties, Congress has been marked by increasing partisanship in which congresspersons voted increasingly in line with their party, and were reluctant to cross the aisle to find compromises, and academics disagree about what factors underlie this trend towards greater partisanship and whether it is continuing.

Watergate and its wake Edit

Nixon's political career was greatly damaged by the Watergate Scandal. On August 9, 1974, he became the first US President to resign from public office. By the time the 1974 Congressional elections took place, Gerald Ford's popularity was severely damaged after he pardoned Nixon and could not get the U.S. economy out of an ongoing recession. [92] Watergate reshaped the relations between Congress and the other branches, and led to increased congressional oversight of federal intelligence agencies, the War Powers Resolution, campaign finance reform, and independent counsel investigations of malfeasance in the executive branch by Congress. [93]

After the Watergate scandal and other abuses of power by the Richard Nixon administration, Congress began to reassert its power to oversee the executive branch and develop legislation. [51] The Democrats regained a two-thirds majority as well as a filibuster-proof Senate majority over Congress once again. [94] In 1978, the Republicans erased the Democrats filibuster-proof, as well a two-thirds, majority by scoring a huge victory in the 1978 Congressional election, as a result of heavy inflation that spread throughout the country at the time. [95] The Democrats' majority in the Senate was now 59–41 [95] and the majority over the House was 276–159. [95] In 1980, The Republicans won both majority of the US Senate and the 1980 US Presidential Election Republican Ronald Reagan became US President and Howard Baker, a moderate-conservative Republican US Senator from Tennessee, [96] became the new Senate Majority leader.

The growth of lobbying Edit

The 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act established the Federal Election Commission which imposed restrictions on monetary contributions by individuals, parties, and political action committees (PACs) could make to candidates for Congress, although there were serious loopholes which encouraged the rapid growth of PACs as well as so-called soft money contributions. [97] Soft money could be used to fund causes not tied to specific candidates, but which could be used to fund political parties, staff, office expenses, television ads they were not directed by a congressional candidate but could benefit him or her substantially nevertheless. [97] Later, the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law limited campaign donations for broadcast TV and radio ads, but didn't limit soft money contributions from corporations, unions and wealthy individuals. [98] One source suggests post-Watergate laws amended in 1974 meant to reduce the "influence of wealthy contributors and end payoffs" instead "legitimized PACs" since they "enabled individuals to band together in support of candidates." [99] From 1974 to 1984, the number of PACs grew from 608 to 3,803, and PAC donations leaped from $12.5 million to $120 million. [99] [100]

Reagan years Edit

Reagan, however, had failed to get the country out of the continued recession. Starting in 1980 and again after the 1982 midterm elections, President Reagan worked with a split Congress with a Republican majority after the 1980 Senate elections and a Democratic majority after the 1980 House elections. The conservatives (whom Reagan backed) lost a substantial number of seats in Congress in 1982. [101] By early 1983, however, the recession had ended and Reagan was re-elected President, in 1984, with a record-breaking 525 electoral votes. [102] The Republicans' six-year control over the Senate ended in 1986, after numerous issues (the Iran Contra Affair, [103] unpopular support for Reagan's aid to the Nicaragua Contras, [104] the cost of the Star Wars weapons program, [104] farming woes [104] and trade gaps) [104] damaged the Reagan Administration's image. By 1988, however, Reagan was redeemed of these scandals and Republican Vice President George H.W. Bush won the 1988 US Presidential election by a landslide vote. [105]

Clinton years Edit

In the 1992 US Presidential election, Democratic candidate Bill Clinton defeated President Bush (whose image was damaged by economic woes and the Republican base was split by third party candidate Ross Perot) [106] while the Democratic Party had a majority after both the Senate elections and Representatives elections of 1992. This shifted the balance of power in favor of the Democrats once again. The Republicans, however, finally returned to a majority position, in both houses of Congress, in the election of 1994, thanks in part to: 1) President Clinton's unpopular attempt to establish universal health care [107] and 2) Republican Congressman Newt Gingrich's Contract with America, [108] which was promoted heavily by the entire Republican Party. [109] By the 1996 US Presidential Election, Clinton's economic programs prevailed [ citation needed ] and the President was elected to a second term in a landslide victory. Despite Clinton's huge victory, however, the Democrats were still not able to regain control of either the US House of Representatives or Senate.

The rising influence of the media Edit

In the last few decades, the role of the media has become more prominent, and analyst Michael Schudson suggested that "more actions took place in a public arena" and caused "more roads to open up in Congress for individual representatives to influence decisions." [110] Political scientist Norman Ornstein notes that changes in the electronic and print media have led to a greater emphasis on the negative and sensational side of Congress, and refers to this as the tabloidization of media coverage. [5] Other academics have pointed out that pressure to squeeze a political position into a thirty-second soundbite means that it's difficult to explain things which require a "heavy burden of proof". [111] Complex decisions must be made simple enough to communicate with a quick slogan or catchphrase. [111] As more Americans tended to stay home and watch television, the impact of television on politics continued to grow, so that advertising commercials for congresspersons running for reelection became vital.

The rise of right wing conservatism Edit

For the most part between 1995 and 2007, the Republicans controlled both houses. In the wake of the unpopularity of President Clinton's impeachment trial, the 107th Congress (2001–2003) saw the Democrats and Republicans split control of the US Senate 50–50, ending effectively tied [112] Despite this gain in the Senate for the Democrats, Republican George W Bush was elected president. His vice president Dick Cheney had the tie-breaking vote in the Senate during the first four months of 2001. In May 2001, a Republican US Senator from the state of Vermont, Jim Jeffords, ended his affiliation with the Republican Party, and caucused with the Democrats, giving them control of the Senate. [113]

These years were marked by growth of lobbying, although there were efforts at reform. One analyst suggested the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law failed to rein in excessive campaign money. [114] There have been concerns that PACs exert excessive influence over Congress and distort the democratic process. [115] [116] In 2009, there were 4,600 business, labor and special-interest PACs. [117] Big PACs include the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the National Association of Realtors. [118] From 2007 to 2008, 175 members of Congress received "half or more of their campaign cash from political action committees in 2007–08." [117] Both Republicans and Democrats get PAC money for example, in 2007–2008, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky got $3,754,331 from PACs while Democratic Senator Max Baucus of Montana got $3,257,396. [117] There were reports that some of the federal bailout money in the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) for distressed banks during the economic downturn of 2007–2008 was being doled out as campaign contributions to lawmakers who oversee TARP. [119] In 1988, Joseph A. Califano, Jr. wrote "government regulation is more pervasive than ever" since the US economy is large and varied and this encourages government officials to get "more and more involved in every aspect of our lives," which spurs special interests to use money to influence legislation. [120] Some PAC members feel resentful of members of Congress yet "go along with their demands for contributions for fear of losing vital access in Congress." [121] Critics of PACs say it allows special interests to wield too much influence in Congress proponents dispute the assertion that PACs represent narrow constituencies. [121] Bipartisan groups have tried to reduce the influence of PACs, generally unsuccessfully. [99] But reform efforts have been stymied because of perceptions that changes may benefit one political party or the other. [115] There is speculation that this money undermines the power of political parties since candidates could get resources directly from PACs rather than from the party. [5] K Street Lobbyists (named because of the large number of lobbying firms located on K Street) are reported to have actually written portions of bills for both houses of Congress that later passed into law. A further complication is that lobbying groups have become skilled in "camouflaging their true identity" by forming coalitions with pleasant-sounding innocuous names. [5]

Twenty-first century and partisanship Edit

The Congress in the first decade of the 21st century has been characterized by sometimes rather extreme partisanship, with many votes split precisely on party lines. Some analysts wonder whether fierce political infighting between Democrats and Republicans has prevented lawmakers from tackling tough issues such as global warming and deficit spending and prevented them from finding acceptable bipartisan compromises on issues. [122] In 2009, two former secretaries of State, one Republican, one Democrat, described America in 2009 as "riven with partisan bickering as we confront a range of serious threats – economic, political and military." [122] Congress, itself, has tried to make rulings to reduce partisanship for example, H.Res.153.LTH discussed how personal choices about ethics were made on a partisan basis. [123] Intense partisanship combined with ethics probes can be a potent concoction for example, representative Tom DeLay was kicked out of the House based in part on his dealings with lobbyist Jack Abramoff. [124] DeLay complained afterwards in the Washington Post about what he called the criminalization of politics: "it's not bad enough now to just beat 'em in policy or let them ruin your reputation . they've got to bankrupt you, ruin your family, put you in jail, put you in the grave and then dance on your grave," said DeLay. [124] DeLay was subsequently convicted by a jury of money laundering and conspiracy related to illegally channeling campaign finances. He was sentenced to three years in prison for his crimes. At his sentencing, the judge dismissed any notion of partisanship as having been a factor in the trial: "Before there were Republicans and Democrats, there was America, and what America is about is the rule of law." [125] Congress can still pass bills despite intense partisan opposition, such as the recent health care overhaul. [126]

Congress today Edit

The 108th Congress (2003–2005) saw the Senate return to a GOP majority of 51–49, as Republican President George W Bush had gained popularity for his fight against Al Qaeda terrorists and broad tax cuts. [127] In 2006, opposition to Bush's continuation of the Iraq War had grown to new heights. [128] As a result, the 110th Congress saw the Democrats regain majority control of both the United States Senate and United States House of Representatives. [128] This shifted again in 2010, after two years of a sour economy with high unemployment, Republicans regained control of the House, although Democrats kept control in the Senate exit polls suggested voters were dissatisfied with President Obama as well as the Congress. [129] [130]

In August 2011, faced with inability to control spending and inability to confront fiscal issues because of partisan gridlock, [131] Congress and president Barack Obama reached a new [132] and controversial [133] [134] agreement which includes a twelve-member [132] bipartisan committee within Congress––six Republicans and six Democrats––with equal representation from the House and Senate–– which was called the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction or unofficially referred to as the Super Congress. This committee had power to fast-track legislation [135] through both chambers and propose legislation with little chance of amendment by other congresspersons [135] by December 2011, when it was voted upon by the entire Congress. [136] In November 2011, the committee failed to reach any bipartisan agreement and was formally terminated in January 2012. In autumn 2013, strong partisan disagreement between Republicans and Democrats led to a budget deadlock and partial government shutdown with a risk of default if the debt ceiling was not raised by October 17. [137]


1789-1815

During its first quarter century, the new United States government had to find its way in the world while attending to the nation’s business. Leaders met with Indian nations and faced often-hostile relations with European powers while coping with conflicts between emerging political parties and working out relationships among the three new branches of government.

The First Congress (1789–1791) laid the foundation built upon by future congresses: It inaugurated the president, created government departments, established a system of courts, passed the Bill of Rights, and enacted laws needed by the new country to raise money and provide for other essential needs. Meeting first in New York City and then in Philadelphia, legislators moved in 1800 to the new Capitol in the District of Columbia.

The founding era concluded with the War of 1812. As the nation fought to confirm its independence from Great Britain, British forces invaded Washington in the summer of 1814 and set fire to its public buildings, including the Capitol. Despite the turbulence and uncertainty of these times, the nation successfully developed a functioning government based on the principles of representation.


February 11, 2014

Former vice president Dick Cheney in the Old Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

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This essay appears in the March 6 issue of The New York Review of Books and is posted at TomDispatch.com and The Nation with the kind permission of that magazine. The film and two books under review in this piece are listed at the end of the essay.

If you&rsquore a man of principle, compromise is a bit of a dirty word.
&emsp&emsp&emsp&mdashDick Cheney, 2013

1. &ldquoWe Ought to Take It Out&rdquo

In early 2007, as Iraq seemed to be slipping inexorably into chaos and President George W. Bush into inescapable political purgatory, Meir Dagan, the head of the Israeli Mossad, flew to Washington, sat down in a sunlit office of the West Wing of the White House, and spread out on the coffee table before him a series of photographs showing a strange-looking building rising out of the sands in the desert of eastern Syria. Vice President Dick Cheney did not have to be told what it was. &ldquoThey tried to hide it down a wadi, a gulley,&rdquo he recalls to filmmaker R.J. Cutler.

&ldquoThere&rsquos no population around it anyplace&hellip. You can&rsquot say it&rsquos to generate electricity, there&rsquos no power line coming out of it. It&rsquos just out there obviously for production of plutonium.&rdquo

The Syrians were secretly building a nuclear plant&mdashwith the help, it appeared, of the North Koreans. Though the United States was already embroiled in two difficult, unpopular, and seemingly endless wars, though its military was overstretched and its people impatient and angry, the vice president had no doubt what needed to be done: &ldquoCondi recommended taking it to the United Nations. I strongly recommended that we ought to take it out.&rdquo

Launching an immediate surprise attack on Syria, Cheney tells us in his memoirs, would not only &ldquomake the region and the world safer, but it would also demonstrate our seriousness with respect to nonproliferation.&rdquo This was the heart of the Bush Doctrine: henceforth terrorists and the states harboring them would be treated as one and, as President Bush vowed before Congress in January 2002, &ldquothe United States of America will not permit the world&rsquos most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world&rsquos most destructive weapons.&rdquo It was according to this strategic thinking that the United States answered attacks on New York and Washington by a handful of terrorists not by a carefully circumscribed counterinsurgency aimed at Al Qaeda but by a worldwide &ldquowar on terror&rdquo that also targeted states&mdashIraq, Iran, North Korea&mdashthat formed part of a newly defined &ldquoaxis of evil.&rdquo 1 According to those attending National Security Council meetings in the days after September 11: &ldquoThe primary impetus for invading Iraq&hellipwas to make an example of [Saddam] Hussein, to create a demonstration model to guide the behavior of anyone with the temerity to acquire destructive weapons or, in any way, flout the authority of the United States.&rdquo 2

And yet five years after the president had denounced the &ldquoaxis of evil&rdquo before Congress, and four years after his administration had invaded and occupied Iraq in the declared aim of ridding Saddam&rsquos regime of its weapons of mass destruction, the North Koreans had detonated their own nuclear weapon and the Syrians and Iranians, as the vice president tells us in his memoirs, were &ldquoboth working to develop nuclear capability.&rdquo What&rsquos more

Syria was facilitating the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq, where they killed US soldiers. Iran was providing funding and weapons for exactly the same purpose, as well as providing weapons to the Taliban in Afghanistan. They were both involved in supporting Hezbollah in its efforts to threaten Israel and destabilize the Lebanese government. They constituted a major threat to America&rsquos interests in the Middle East.

By the vice president&rsquos own analysis the &ldquodemonstration model&rdquo approach, judged by whether it was &ldquoguiding the behavior&rdquo of the axis of evil countries and their allies, was delivering distinctly mixed results. No matter: &rdquoI told the president we needed a more effective and aggressive strategy to counter these threats, and I believed that an important first step would be to destroy the reactor in the Syrian desert.&rdquo

Launching an air strike on Syria, as he tells Cutler, &ldquowould sort of again reassert the kind of authority and influence we had back in &rsquo03&mdashwhen we took down Saddam Hussein and eliminated Iraq as a potential source of WMD.&rdquo

&ldquoBack in &rsquo03&rdquo had been the Golden Age, when American power had reached its zenith. After Kabul had fallen in a few weeks, the shock and awe launched from American planes and missiles had brought American warriors storming all the way to Baghdad. Saddam&rsquos statue, with the help of an American tank and a strong chain, crashed to the pavement. The first of the &ldquoaxis of evil&rdquo countries had fallen. President Bush donned his flight suit and swaggered across the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln. It was the &ldquoMission Accomplished&rdquo moment.

And yet is there not something distinctly odd in pointing, in 2007&mdashnot to mention in the memoirs of 2011 and the film interview in 2013&mdashto &ldquothe kind of authority and influence we had back in &rsquo03&rdquo? Four years after the Americans had declared victory in Iraq&mdasheven as the vice president was &ldquostrongly recommending&rdquo that the United States attack Syria&mdashmore than 100,000 Iraqis and nearly 5,000 Americans were dead, Iraq was near anarchy, and no end was yet in sight. Not only the war&rsquos ending but its beginning had disappeared into a dark cloud of confusion and controversy, as the weapons of mass destruction that were its justification turned out not to exist. The invasion had produced not the rapid and overwhelming victory Cheney had anticipated but a quagmire in which the American military had occupied and repressed a Muslim country and, four years later, been brought to the verge of defeat. As for &ldquoauthority and influence,&rdquo during that time North Korea had acquired nuclear weapons and Iran and Syria had started down the road to building them.

Given this, what exactly had the &ldquodemonstration model&rdquo demonstrated? If such demonstrations really did &ldquoguide the behavior of anyone with the temerity&hellipto flout the authority of the United States,&rdquo how exactly had the decision to invade Iraq and the disastrous outcome of the war guided the actions and policies of those authority-flouting countries? The least one could say is that if the theory worked, then that &ldquoauthority and influence we had back in &rsquo03,&rdquo in conquered Baghdad, had been unmasked, as the insurgency got underway, as an illusion.

The pinnacle of power had been attained not in Baghdad but long before, when the leaders decided to set out on this ill-starred military adventure. By invading Iraq, Bush administration policymakers&mdashand at their head, Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld&mdashhad managed to demonstrate to the world not the grand extent of American power but its limits. The most one could say is that the &ldquodemonstration model&rdquo had had the opposite result of that intended, encouraging &ldquorogue states,&rdquo faced with the prospect of an aggressive United States determined to wield its unmatched conventional military forces, to pursue the least expensive means by which to deter such an attack: nuclear weapons of their own. Now the Iraq war suggested that even if the Americans did invade, a determined core of insurgents equipped with small arms, suicide vests and other improvised explosive devices might well be enough to outlast them, or at least outlast the patience of the American public.

2. The Smile of Secret Power

By November 2007 two in three Americans had concluded that the Iraq war had not been worth fighting. President Bush, bidding fair to become the least popular president since modern polling began, had just led the Republicans to a decisive &ldquothumping&rdquo at the polls, losing control of both houses of Congress&mdashand had felt obliged finally to fire Rumsfeld, Cheney&rsquos longtime mentor, over the latter&rsquos dogged and strenuous objections. It was Rumsfeld who had brought the young Cheney into the White House in the late 1960s and who had presided over his astonishing rise, and it was Rumsfeld who had been Cheney&rsquos critical partner in advocating &ldquothe strategy of the demonstration effect.&rdquo Even as Bush secretly interviewed Robert M. Gates, Rumsfeld&rsquos prospective replacement, at his Crawford, Texas, ranch two days before the election, discussing Iraq, Afghanistan and the perilous state of the American military, the vice president&rsquos shadow loomed. According to Gates, &ldquoAfter about an hour together, the president leaned forward and asked if I had any more questions. I said no. He then sort of smiled and said, &lsquoCheney?&rsquo&rdquo 3

Two syllables. One word. Hearing it Gates &ldquosort of smiled back.&rdquo Reading it, we do the same. But what exactly does that word, accompanied by that &ldquosort of&rdquo smile, mean? It raises first and foremost a question about power&mdashsecret power. Untrammeled power. Hard power. The power behind the POTUS. The Dark Side. The man who, even as he could no longer prevent his longtime mentor and close collaborator from being fired, himself never could be.

Richard Bruce Cheney, the man who had acceded to Governor George W. Bush&rsquos request in 2000 that he lead his search to find a perfect vice president, and who found that this arduous and exacting effort led to none other than himself, would be there at Bush&rsquos side, or somewhere in the murk behind him, until the bitter end. For all his experience and sophistication, that grimly blank expression&mdashcalmly unflinching gaze, slightly lopsided frown&mdashembodied a philosophy of power unapologetically, brutally simple: attack, crush enemies, cause others to fear, submit. Power from time to time must be embodied in vivid violence, like Voltaire&rsquos executions, pour encourager les autres.

When it comes to Cheney&rsquos rise and his persistence we are in the realm of miracles and wonders. In 1969, Cheney was a 28-year-old fledgling academic wannabe from Wyoming laboring obscurely as an intern on Capitol Hill&mdashand lucky to be there, having twice flunked out of Yale, twice been jailed for drunk driving. Five years later he was Gerald Ford&rsquos White House chief of staff. Can American history offer a more rapid rise to power? Even the firework arc of his mentor Donald Rumsfeld pales before it. 4 He&rsquod owed his rise in large part to Rumsfeld&rsquos patronage, but also to Watergate itself, to the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities offered by the resignation of one president and the humbling of his successor. At close range Cheney, still in his early thirties, had seen the secret organs of executive power, notably the CIA, exposed to the light, humiliated, leashed. If it was true that &ldquoafter 9/11, the gloves came off,&rdquo Cheney, as a young and unlikely power in the Nixon and Ford White Houses, had had a front-row seat to observe the methods by which Congress first put those gloves on.

After Ford&rsquos defeat in 1976, Cheney won Wyoming&rsquos single House seat and rose with astonishing speed, advancing within a decade from freshman to minority whip, the number-three leadership position. He was on his way to the Speakership when he accepted President George H.W. Bush&rsquos offer to become secretary of defense and then, after leading the Pentagon during the wildly popular Desert Storm, left after Bush&rsquos defeat to become CEO of Halliburton, the giant oil services company. After gaining wealth and influence as a corporate leader, he finally departed to become&mdashto use the commonplace but entirely inadequate phrase&mdash&ldquothe most powerful vice president in history.&rdquo

And all the while, like an ominous ground bass booming along beneath this public tale of power and triumph, runs another, darker narrative of mortality, in some ways even more remarkable. While campaigning for the House in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 1978, Cheney was struck down by a heart attack. His doctor, and coauthor of Heart: An American Medical Odyssey, Jonathan Reiner, remarks that he knows no one who had a heart attack in the Seventies who is still alive today. For Cheney that 1978 coronary would be the first of five, his survival increasingly owed to the most advanced medical technology that with almost miraculous fortune became available just as he needed it to survive&mdashas if, Cheney writes, he &ldquowere traveling down a street, late for work, and all the lights ahead of me were red, but they turned green just before I got there.&rdquo

In the book&rsquos most striking scene, Reiner recalls hearing a colleague summoning him back to the operating table late one afternoon in March 2012 with the words &ldquoHey, Jon, take a look.&rdquo Entering, he is confronted with a singular vision:

In Alan&rsquos raised right hand, festooned with surgical clamps and now separated from the body that it had sustained for seventy-one years, rested the vice president&rsquos heart. It was huge, more than twice the size of a normal organ, and it bore the scars of its four-decade battle with the relentless disease that eventually killed it. I turned from the heart to look down into the chest&hellip. The surreal void was a vivid reminder that there was no turning back.

3. The End of the &ldquoDemonstration Effect&rdquo

No turning back would be a good slogan for Dick Cheney. His memoirs are remarkable&mdashand he shares this with Rumsfeld&mdashfor an almost perfect lack of second-guessing, regret, or even the mildest reconsideration. &ldquoI thought the best way to get on with my life and my career was to do what I thought was right,&rdquo he tells Cutler. &ldquoI did what I did, it&rsquos all on the public record, and I feel very good about it.&rdquo Decisions are now as they were then. If that Mission Accomplished moment in 2003 seemed at the time to be the height of American power and authority, then so it will remain&mdashunquestioned, unaltered, uninflected by subsequent public events that show it quite clearly to have been nothing of the kind. &ldquoIf I had to do it over again,&rdquo says Cheney, &ldquoI&rsquod do it in a minute.&rdquo

Yet lack of regret, refusal to reconsider, doesn&rsquot alter the train of cause and effect certainty that decisions were right, no matter how powerful&mdashand the imperturbable perfection of Cheney&rsquos certainty is nothing short of dazzling&mdashcannot obscure evidence that they were wrong. Often the sheer unpopularity of a given course seems to offer to Cheney its own satisfaction, a token of his disinterestedness, as if the lack of political support must serve as a testament to the purity of his motives. &ldquoCheney is an anti-politician,&rdquo remarks Barton Gellman, author of the brilliant study of Cheney&rsquos vice-presidency, Angler. 5 &ldquoBut no president can be an anti-politician. No president can govern that way.&rdquo

By 2007, even President Bush had begun to realize this, to understand the pitfalls and risks of Cheney&rsquos certainty. Having ventured his own one-word query in the interview with Robert Gates&mdash&ldquoCheney?&rdquo&mdashBush supplies his own answer: &ldquoHe is a voice, an important voice, but only one voice.&rdquo This observation would appear to be proved true in the debate over attacking Syria, in which Gates as secretary of defense joined Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Secretary Adviser Stephen Hadley in opposing Cheney. &ldquoThe idea that we could bomb the Syria reactor to make a point about proliferation in the face of uncertain intelligence,&rdquo Rice remarks in her memoirs, &ldquowas, to put it mildly, reckless.&rdquo

It was not just the possibility that such a surprise attack could ignite a regional conflagration and pull the Syrians and Iranians deeper into the Iraq quagmire, or the fact that the American public was exhausted with war and desperate to withdraw from the Middle East rather than attack another country there. The Chinese were deeply involved&mdashthey were critical to pressuring the North Koreans, who had helped build the Syrian reactor&mdashand, Rice notes, &ldquothey (and the rest of the region) would never have tolerated the military strike the Vice President recommended.&rdquo 6

No matter. Cheney prided himself on keeping political concerns out of decisions about &ldquowhat was right&rdquo and no war gone wrong, let alone a defeat at the polls, would change his views on the terrible &ldquonexus&rdquo between terrorists and their state sponsors and weapons of mass destruction. As he tells Cutler: &ldquoYou don&rsquot want Syria to have that kind of capability that they might be able to pass along to Hamas or Hezbollah or al-Qaeda.&rdquo Despite the ongoing war in Iraq, and the widespread fears of a regional conflagration, and the war-weariness and anger among Americans, the United States had no choice but to attack Syria and to do it without delay. And as Gates remarks, though &ldquoCheney knew that, among the four of us, he alone thought a strike should be the first and only option&hellipperhaps he could persuade the president.&rdquo 7

Perhaps he could if so, it would not be the first time that Cheney&rsquos voice, isolated or not, had carried the day. The vice president lobbied the president directly and then made his case to a National Security Council meeting in June 2007: &ldquoI argued in front of the group and in front of the President&hellip. I thought I was rather eloquent&hellip. The President said, &lsquoAll right, how many people agree with the Vice President?&rsquo And nobody put their hand up.&rdquo

The days had passed when Bush would ignore the hands and choose Cheney&rsquos path anyway. There would be no return to the glorious &ldquoauthority and influence we had back in &rsquo03.&rdquo Having refused Israeli demands that he order an air strike, Bush also discouraged, at least nominally, direct Israeli action, supposedly intending to follow Rice&rsquos and Gates&rsquos insistence that the reactor be exposed at the United Nations. But the Israelis had other plans. Late one night in September 2007, American-made Israeli F-15s streaked across the Syrian border and, using precisely targeted bombs, &ldquotook out&rdquo the reactor. In the event, the Israelis made no grand announcement to promote Israel&rsquos &ldquoauthority and influence&rdquo or that of its American ally. The Israelis kept the attack secret and insisted the Americans do the same&mdashas did the Syrians, who quietly demolished the ruins and plowed them under. The era of the &ldquodemonstration effect&rdquo was over.

Working the Dark Side

And yet we live still in Cheney&rsquos world. All around us are the consequences of those decisions: in Fallujah, Iraq, where Al Qaeda-allied jihadis who were nowhere to be found in Saddam Hussein&rsquos Iraq have just again seized control in Syria, where Iraqi jihadists play a prominent part in the rebellion against the Assad regime in Afghanistan, where the Taliban, largely ignored after 2002 in the rush to turn American attention to Saddam Hussein, are resurgent. And then there is the other side of the &ldquowar on terror,&rdquo the darker story that Cheney, five days after the September 11 attacks, was able to describe so precisely for the country during an interview on Meet the Press:

We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We&rsquove got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies&hellip. That&rsquos the world these folks operate in, and so it&rsquos going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.

The day after Cheney made these comments President Bush signed a secret document that, according to longtime CIA counsel John Rizzo

was the most comprehensive, most ambitious, most aggressive, and most risky Finding or MON [Memorandum of Notification] I was ever involved in. One short paragraph authorized the capture and detention of Al Qaeda terrorists, another authorized taking lethal action against them. The language was simple and stark&hellip. We had filled the entire covert-action tool kit, including tools we had never before used. 8

This memorandum, as Rizzo remarks, &ldquoremains in effect to this day.&rdquo So too does Congress&rsquos Authorization for the Use of Military Force that Bush signed the following day. More than a dozen years later these are the two pillars, secret and public, dark side and light, on which the unending &ldquowar on terror&rdquo still rests. Though we have become accustomed to President Obama telling us, as he most recently did in the State of the Union address, that &ldquoAmerica must move off a permanent war footing,&rdquo these words have come to sound, in their repetition, less like the orders of a commander in chief than the pleas of one lonely man hoping to persuade.

What are these words, after all, next to the iron realities of the post-September 11 world? The defense budget has more than doubled, including a Special Operations Command able to launch secret, lethal raids anywhere in the world that has grown from 30,000 elite troops to more than 67,000. The drone force has expanded from fewer than 200 unmanned aerial vehicles to more than 11,000, including perhaps 400 &ldquoarmed-capable&rdquo drones that can and do target and kill from the sky&mdashand that, following the computer directives of &ldquopilots&rdquo manning terminals in Virginia and Nevada and elsewhere in the United States, have killed in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia an estimated 3,600 people.

The &ldquoblack sites&rdquo&mdashthe network of secret prisons the CIA set up around the world, from Thailand and Afghanistan to Romania and Poland and Morocco&mdashwere ordered shut down by President Obama, but despite his executive order on his second day in office, Guantánamo Bay, the &ldquopublic black site,&rdquo remains open, its 155 detainees, but for a handful, uncharged and untried. Among that number live &ldquohigh-value detainees&rdquo who were once secretly imprisoned at the black sites, where many were subjected to &ldquoenhanced interrogation techniques.&rdquo 9 Asked by Cutler whether he considers &ldquoa prolonged period of creating the sensation of drowning&rdquo&mdashwaterboarding&mdashto be torture, Cheney&rsquos response comes fast and certain:

I don&rsquot. Tell me what terrorist attacks that you would have let go forward because you didn&rsquot want to be a mean and nasty fellow. Are you gonna trade the lives of a number of people because you want to preserve your, your honor, or are you going to do your job, do what&rsquos required first and foremost, your responsibility to safeguard the United States of America and the lives of its citizens? Now given a choice between doing what we did or backing off and saying, &ldquoWe know you know their next attack against the United States but we&rsquore not gonna force you to tell us what is is because it might create a bad image for us.&rdquo That&rsquos not a close call for me.

Quite apart from the large factual questions blithely begged, there is a kind of stark amoral grandeur to this answer that takes one&rsquos breath away. Just as he was likely the most important and influential American official in making the decision to withhold the protection of the Geneva Conventions from detainees, Cheney was likely the most important and influential American when it came to imposing an official government policy of torture. It is quite clear he simply cannot, or will not, acknowledge that such a policy raises any serious moral or legal questions at all. Those who do acknowledge such questions, he appears to believe, are poseurs, acting out some highfalutin and affected pretense based on&mdashthere is a barely suppressed sneer here&mdash&ldquopreserving your honor.&rdquo What does he think of those&mdashand their number includes the current attorney general of the United States and the president himself&mdashwho believe and have declared publicly that waterboarding is torture and thus plainly illegal? For Cheney the question is not only &ldquonot a close call.&rdquo It is not even a question.

As I write, five men are being tried for plotting the attacks of September 11, 2001. Though one would expect that such proceedings might be dubbed &ldquothe trial of the century&rdquo and attract commensurate attention, it is quite possible&mdashlikely, even&mdashthat you have not even heard of them. The five defendants accused of killing nearly three thousand Americans are being tried before a military commission at Guantánamo Bay. Those handful of visitors who are able to gain permission to attend, including a very few journalists, find the conditions rather unusual, quite unlike any courtroom they have ever seen, as Carroll Bogert of Human Rights Watch reports:

Visitors observe the hearings behind sound-proof glass, with an audio feed that runs 40 seconds behind. When something sensitive is said in the courtroom, the infamous &ldquohockey light&rdquo on the judge&rsquos bench lights up and the comment is bleeped out&hellip

The degree of classification of banal matters is bewildering. A former camp commander issued a memo on exactly what material the defense lawyers were allowed to bring in to their clients. One thing that was not allowed to be brought in? The memo itself.

The defendants include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the confessed mastermind of September 11, who was captured in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, in March 2003 and immediately disappeared into the CIA&rsquos network of secret prisons, spending time, reportedly, at black sites in Afghanistan, Thailand, and Poland, where he was subjected to a medley of &ldquoenhanced interrogation techniques,&rdquo including prolonged sleep deprivation, beatings, forced nudity, &ldquowalling,&rdquo cold water immersions, and waterboarding, a procedure he endured no less than 183 times. Though this particular information comes from CIA documents, including an authoritative report by the CIA&rsquos inspector general, which have long been public, any mention of the treatment of Mohammed, and the other defendants, is forbidden in court. And yet, Bogert writes, &ldquoTorture is Guantánamo&rsquos Original Sin.&rdquo

It is both invisible and omnipresent. The US government wants coverage of the 9/11 attacks, but not the waterboarding, sleep deprivation, prolonged standing and other forms of torture that the CIA applied to the defendants. It&rsquos tricky, prosecuting the 9/11 case while trying to keep torture out of the public eye. &ldquoTorture is the thread running through all of this,&rdquo one of the detainees&rsquo psychiatrists told me. &ldquoYou can&rsquot tell the story [of 9/11] without it.&rdquo

And yet in that Guantánamo pseudo-courtroom American military officers acting under color of law as well as some civilian lawyers are trying to do so. This peculiar, mortifying procedure&mdasha futile attempt to render a kind of disfigured justice to those responsible for killing thousands of Americans and upending the history of the country&mdashis one more legacy of the misshapen response to the attacks: not a remnant of a past we want to forget but of a present we are trying to ignore. Bogert goes on:

The 9/11 defendants are not being tortured today, at least not in the way they once were. But we don&rsquot know much about conditions in their prison. For years, even its name, &ldquoCamp Seven,&rdquo was a secret. Proceedings have now ground to a halt while the mental competency of one defendant, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, is evaluated. He kept interrupting the hearings last month with shouts of &ldquoThis is my life. This is torture. TOR! TURE!&rdquo

We&rsquore not sure what else he said&hellip. Bin al-Shibh&rsquos audio went fuzzy partway through. 10

Orwellian? Kafkaesque? The words seem pale and inadequate. Against the backroom noise of these distant, choked-off voices, largely forgotten and ignored, stands the former vice president, speaking clearly and forthrightly, defiantly unashamed. One can&rsquot help feeling grim gratitude to him for this, for, as I shall explore in the next article, it was Dick Cheney, more than any other official, who set the terms for the post-September 11 world we all share.

Under review in this essay:

The World According to Dick Cheney, a film directed by R.J. Cutler and Greg Finton

In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir by Dick Cheney, with Liz Cheney. Threshold, 565 pp., $16.00 (paper)

Heart: An American Medical Odyssey by Dick Cheney and Jonathan Reiner, MD, with Liz Cheney. Scribner, 344 pp., $28.00]

1&enspSee my earlier articles in this series, &ldquoRumsfeld&rsquos War and Its Consequences Now&ensp,&rdquo The New York Review of Books, December 19, 2013,&ldquoRumsfeld Revealed,&rdquo The New York Review of Books, January 9, 2014, and &ldquoRumsfeld: Why We Live in His Ruins,&rdquo The New York Review of Books, February 6, 2014. Back to text&ensp

2&enspSee Ron Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America&rsquos Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11 (Simon and Schuster, 2006), p. 123. Back to text&ensp

3&enspSee Robert M. Gates, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (Knopf, 2014), p. 7. Back to text

4&enspSee &ldquoRumsfeld&rsquos War and Its Consequences Now.&rdquo Perhaps Theodore Roosevelt, who rose from New York City police commissioner to president in six years, comes close. See Tevi Troy, &ldquoHeavy Heart: The Life and Cardiac Times of Dick Cheney,&rdquo The Weekly Standard, January 27, 2014. Back to text&ensp

5&enspBarton Gellman, Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency (Penguin, 2008). Back to text&ensp

6&enspSee Condoleezza Rice, No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington (Crown, 2011), p. 713. Back to text&ensp

8&enspSee John Rizzo, Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA (Scribner, 2014), p. 174. Back to text&ensp

9&enspSee my article &ldquoUS Torture: Voices from the Black Sites,&rdquo The New York Review, April 9, 2009. Back to text

10&enspSee Carroll Bogert, &ldquoThere&rsquos Something You Need to See at Guantanamo Bay,&rdquo Politico, January 22, 2014. Back to text&ensp


Contents

Independence and self-government Edit

The American Revolutionary War broke out against British rule in April 1775 with the Battles of Lexington and Concord. [1] The Second Continental Congress met in May 1775, and established an army funded by Congress and under the leadership of George Washington, a Virginian who had fought in the French and Indian War. [2] On July 4, 1776, as the war continued, Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. [3] At exactly the same time that Congress declared independence, it also created a committee to craft a constitution for the new nation. Though some in Congress hoped for a strong centralized state, most Americans wanted legislative power to rest primarily with the states and saw the central government as a mere wartime necessity. The resulting constitution, which came to be known as the Articles of Confederation, provided for a weak national government with little power to coerce the state governments. [4] The first article of the new constitution established a name for the new confederacy – the United States of America. [5]

The first draft of the Articles of Confederation, written by John Dickinson, was presented to Congress on July 12, 1776, but Congress did not send the proposed constitution to the states until November 1777. Three major constitutional issues divided Congress: state borders, including claims to lands west of the Appalachian Mountains, state representation in the new Congress, and whether tax levies on states should take slaves into account. Ultimately, Congress decided that each state would have one vote in Congress and that slaves would not affect state levies. [6] By 1780, as the war continued, every state but Maryland had ratified the Articles Maryland refused to ratify the constitution until all of the other states relinquished their western land claims to Congress. The success of Britain's Southern strategy, along with pressure from America's French allies, convinced Virginia to cede its claims north of the Ohio River, and Maryland finally ratified the Articles in January 1781. The new constitution took effect in March 1781 and the Congress of the Confederation technically replaced the Second Continental Congress as the national government, but in practice the structure and personnel of the new Congress was quite similar to that of the old Congress. [7]

End of the American Revolution Edit

After the American victory at the Battle of Yorktown in September 1781 and the collapse of British Prime Minister North's ministry in March 1782, both sides sought a peace agreement. [8] The American Revolutionary War ended with the signing of the 1783 Treaty of Paris. The treaty granted the United States independence, as well as control of a vast region south of the Great Lakes and extending from the Appalachian Mountains west to the Mississippi River. Although the British Parliament had attached this trans-Appalachian region to Quebec in 1774 as part of the Quebec Act, several states had land claims in region based on royal charters and proclamations that defined their boundaries as stretching "from sea to sea." [9] Some Americans had hoped the treaty would provide for the acquisition of Florida, but that territory was restored to Spain, which had joined the U.S. and France in the war against Britain and demanded its spoils. [10] The British fought hard and successfully to keep Canada, so the treaty acknowledged that. [11]

Observers at the time and historians ever since emphasize the generosity of British territorial concessions. Historians such as Alvord, Harlow, and Ritcheson have emphasized that Britain's generous territorial terms were based on a statesmanlike vision of close economic ties between Britain and the United States. The treaty was designed to facilitate the growth of the American population and create lucrative markets for British merchants, without any military or administrative costs to Britain. [9] As the French foreign minister Vergennes later put it, "The English buy peace rather than make it". [12]

The treaty also addressed several additional issues. The United States agreed to honor debts incurred prior to 1775, while the British agreed to remove their soldiers from American soil. [10] Privileges that the Americans had received because of their membership in the British Empire no longer applied, most notably protection from pirates in the Mediterranean Sea. Neither the Americans nor the British would consistently honor these additional clauses. Individual states ignored treaty obligations by refusing to restore confiscated Loyalist property, and many continued to confiscate Loyalist property for "unpaid debts". Some states, notably Virginia, maintained laws against payment of debts to British creditors. The British often ignored the provision of Article 7 regarding removal of slaves. [13]

The Articles of Confederation created a loose union of states. The confederation's central government consisted of a unicameral Congress with legislative and executive function, and was composed of delegates from each state in the union. Congress received only those powers which the states had previously recognized as belonging to king and parliament. [15] Each state had one vote in Congress, regardless of its size or population, and any act of Congress required the votes of nine of the 13 states to pass [16] any decision to amend the Articles required the unanimous consent of the states. Each state's legislature appointed multiple members to its delegation, allowing delegates to return to their homes without leaving their state unrepresented. [17] Under the Articles, states were forbidden from negotiating with other nations or maintaining a military without Congress's consent, but almost all other powers were reserved for the states. [18] Congress lacked the power to raise revenue, and was incapable of enforcing its own legislation and instructions. As such, Congress was heavily reliant on the compliance and support of the states. [19]

Following the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, which had provided the original impetus for the Articles, Congress's ability to accomplish anything of material consequence declined significantly. Rarely did more than half of the roughly sixty delegates attend a session of Congress at any given time, causing difficulties in raising a quorum. Many of the most prominent national leaders, such as Washington, John Adams, John Hancock, and Benjamin Franklin, retired from public life, served as foreign delegates, or held office in state governments. [20] One national leader who did emerge during this period was James Madison, who became convinced of the need for a stronger national government after serving in the Congress of the Confederation from 1781 to 1783. He would continue to call for a stronger government for the remainder of the 1780s. [21] Congress met in Philadelphia from 1778 until June 1783, when it moved to Princeton, New Jersey due to the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783. Congress would also convene in Annapolis, Maryland and Trenton, New Jersey before settling in New York City in 1785. [22] The lack of strong leaders in Congress, as well as the body's impotence and itinerant nature, embarrassed and frustrated many American nationalists, including Washington. [23] The weakness of Congress also led to frequent talk of secession, and many believed that the United States would break into four confederacies, consisting of New England, the Mid-Atlantic states, the Southern states, and the trans-Appalachian region, respectively. [24]

The Congress of the Confederation was the sole federal governmental body created by the Articles of Confederation, but Congress established other bodies to undertake executive and judicial functions. In 1780, Congress created the Court of Appeals in Cases of Capture, which acted as the lone federal court during the Confederation Period. In early 1781, Congress created executive departments to handle Foreign Affairs, War, and Finance. A fourth department, the Post Office Department, had existed since 1775 and continued to function under the Articles. Congress also authorized the creation of a Marine Department, but chose to place the naval forces under the Finance Department after Alexander McDougall declined to lead the Marine Department. The four departments were charged with administering the federal civil service, but they had little power independent of Congress. [25] Pennsylvania merchant Robert Morris served as the Superintendent of Finance from 1781 to 1784. Though Morris had become somewhat unpopular during the war due to his successful business ventures, Congress hoped that he would be able to ameliorate the country's ruinous financial state. [26] After his proposals were blocked, Morris resigned in frustration in 1784, and was succeeded by a three-person Treasury Board. [27] Benjamin Lincoln served as Secretary of War from 1781 until the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783. He was eventually succeeded by Henry Knox, who held the position from 1785 to 1789. Robert Livingston served as the Secretary of Foreign Affairs from 1781 to 1783, and he was followed in office by John Jay, who served from 1784 to 1789. Jay proved to be an able administrator, and he took control of the nation's diplomacy during his time in office. [28] Ebenezer Hazard served as the United States Postmaster General from 1782 to 1789. [29]

Population by state in the 1790 Census [30]
State Tot. pop. Enslaved pop. Free pop.
Connecticut 237,946 2,764 235,182
Delaware 59,096 8,887 50,209
Georgia 82,548 29,264 53,284
Maryland 319,728 103,036 216,692
Massachusetts 378,787 0 378,787
New Hampshire 141,885 158 141,727
New Jersey 184,139 11,423 172,716
New York 340,120 21,324 318,796
North Carolina 393,751 100,572 293,179
Pennsylvania 434,373 3,737 430,636
Rhode Island 68,825 948 67,877
South Carolina 249,073 107,094 141,979
Virginia 691,737 287,959 403,778
Total [31] 3,929,214 697,681 3,231,533

After the thirteen colonies declared their independence and sovereignty in 1776, each was faced with the task of replacing royal authority with institutions based on popular rule. To varying degrees, the states embraced egalitarianism during and after the war. Each state wrote a new constitution, all of which established an elected executive, and many of which greatly expanded the franchise. The Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 was perhaps the most democratic of these constitutions, as it granted suffrage to all taxpaying male citizens. Many of the new constitutions included a bill of rights that guaranteed freedom of the press, freedom of speech, trial by jury, and other freedoms. [32] Conservative patriots such as Oliver Wolcott, who had fought for independence from Britain but did not favor major changes to the social order, looked with alarm on the new influence of the lower classes and the rise of politicians independent from the upper class. [33]

Following the end of the Revolutionary War, the states embarked on various reforms. Several states enshrined freedom of religion in their constitutions, and every Southern state ended the Anglican Church's status as the state religion. Several states established state universities, while private universities also flourished. Numerous states reformed their criminal codes to reduce the number of capital crimes. Northern states invested in infrastructure projects, including roads and canals that provided access to Western settlements. [34] The states also took action regarding slavery, which appeared increasingly hypocritical to a generation that had fought against what they saw as tyranny. During and after the Revolution, every Northern state passed laws providing for gradual emancipation or the immediate abolition of slavery. Though no Southern states provided for emancipation, they did pass laws restricting the slave trade. [35]

The states continued to carry the burden of heavy debt loads acquired during the Revolutionary War. With the partial exceptions of New York and Pennsylvania, which received revenue from import duties, most states relied on individual and property taxes for revenue. To cope with the war-time debts, several states were forced to raise taxes to a level several times higher than it had been prior to the war. These taxes sparked anger among the populace, particularly in rural areas, and in Massachusetts led to an armed uprising known as Shays' Rebellion. As both Congress and the government of Massachusetts proved unable to suppress the rebellion, former Secretary of War Benjamin Lincoln raised a private army which put an end to the insurgency. [36]

Britain relinquished its claim to Vermont in the Treaty of Paris, but Vermont did not join the United States. Though most in Vermont wanted to become the fourteenth state, New York and New Hampshire, which both claimed parts of Vermont, blocked this ambition. Throughout the 1780s, Vermont acted as an independent state, known as the Vermont Republic. [37]

The United States had acquired huge debts during the Revolutionary War, in part due to Congress's lack of taxation powers under the Articles, only the states could levy taxes or regulate commerce. [38] In 1779, Congress had relinquished most of it economic power to the states, as it stopped printing currency and requested that the states directly pay the soldiers, but the states also suffered from fiscal instability. [39] Robert Morris, appointed as superintendent of finance in 1781, won passage of major centralizing reforms such as the partial assumption of state debt, the suspension of payments to military personnel, and the creation of the Bank of North America. Morris emerged as perhaps the most powerful individual in the national government, with some referring to him as "The Financier," or even "The Dictator." [40] In 1783, Morris, with the support of congressmen such as Madison and Alexander Hamilton, won congressional approval of a five percent levy on imports, which would grant the national government a consistent and independent source of revenue. However, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, the states became more resistant to granting power to Congress. Though all but two states approved the levy, it never won the unanimous backing of the states and thus Congress struggled to find revenue throughout the 1780s. [41]

As the Revolutionary War came to an end, the officers and enlisted men of the Continental Army became increasingly disgruntled over their lack of pay, as Congress had suspended payment due to the poor financial state of the national government. Congress had promised the officers a lifetime pension in 1780, but few of the officers believed that they would receive this benefit. In December 1782, several officers, led by Alexander McDougall, petitioned Congress for their benefits. The officers hoped to use their influence to force the states to allow the federal government to levy a tariff, which in turn would provide revenue to pay the soldiers. [42] Historians such as Robert Middlekauff have argued that some members of the national government, including Congressman Alexander Hamilton and Superintendent of Finance Robert Morris, attempted to use this growing dissatisfaction to increase the power of Congress. [43] An anonymous letter circulated among the officers the document called for the payment of soldiers and threatened mutiny against General Washington and Congress. In a gathering of army officers in March 1783, Washington denounced the letter, but promised to lobby Congress for payment. Washington's speech defused the brewing Newburgh Conspiracy, named for the New York town in which the army was encamped, but dissatisfaction among the soldiers remained high. In May 1783, fearing a mutiny, Washington furloughed most of his army. [42]

After Congress failed to pass an amendment granting the national government the power to levy an impost on imports, Morris paid the army with certificates that the soldiers labeled "Morris notes." The notes promised to pay the soldiers in six months, but few of the soldiers believed that they would ever actually receive payment, and most Morris notes were sold to speculators. [44] Many of the impoverished enlisted men were forced to beg for help on their journeys home. In June, the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783 broke out among angry soldiers who demanded payment, causing Congress to relocate the capital to Princeton. Upon re-convening, Congress reduced the size of the army from 11,000 to 2,000. [22] Though national security was a top priority of American leaders, [45] in the short term a smaller Continental Army would suffice because Americans had confidence that the Atlantic Ocean would provide protection from European powers. [46] On December 23, 1783, Washington resigned from the army, earning the admiration of many for his willingness to relinquish power. [22]

In August 1784, Congress established the First American Regiment, the nation's first peacetime regular army infantry unit, which served primarily on the American frontier. Even so, the size of the army continued to shrink, down to a mere 625 soldiers, while Congress effectively disbanded the Continental Navy in 1785 with the sale of the USS Alliance. The small, poorly equipped army would prove powerless to prevent squatters from moving onto Native American lands, further inflaming a tense situation on the frontier. [47]

Partly due to the restrictions imposed by the Royal Proclamation of 1763, only a handful of Americans had settled west of the Appalachian Mountains prior to the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. The start of that war lifted the barrier to settlement, and by 1782 approximately 25,000 Americans had settled in Transappalachia. [48] After the war, American settlement in the region continued. Though life in these new lands proved hard for many, western settlement offered the prize of property, an unrealistic aspiration for some in the East. [22] Westward expansion stirred enthusiasm even in those who did not move west, and many leading Americans, including Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay, purchased lands in the west. [49] Land speculators founded groups like the Ohio Company, which acquired title to vast tracts of land in the west and often came into conflict with settlers. [50] Washington and others co-founded the Potomac Company to build a canal linking the Potomac River with Ohio River. Washington hoped that this canal would provide a cultural and economic link between the east and west, thus ensuring that the West would not ultimately secede. [51]

In 1784, Virginia formally ceded its claims north of the Ohio River, and Congress created a government for the region now known as the Old Northwest with the Land Ordinance of 1784 and the Land Ordinance of 1785. These laws established the principle that Old Northwest would be governed by a territorial government, under the aegis of Congress, until it reached a certain level of political and economic development. At that point, the former territories would enter the union as states, with rights equal to that of any other state. [52] The federal territory stretched across most of the area west of Pennsylvania and north of the Ohio River, though Connecticut retained a small part of its claim in the West in the form of the Connecticut Western Reserve, a strip of land south of Lake Erie. [53] In 1787, Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance, which granted Congress greater control of the region by establishing the Northwest Territory. Under the new arrangement, many of the formerly elected officials of the territory were instead appointed by Congress. [52] In order to attract Northern settlers, Congress outlawed slavery in the Northwest Territory, though it also passed a fugitive slave law to appease the Southern states. [54]

While the Old Northwest fell under the control of the federal government, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia retained control of the Old Southwest each state claimed to extend west to the Mississippi River. [55] In 1784, settlers in western North Carolina sought statehood as the State of Franklin, but their efforts were denied by Congress, which did not want to set a precedent regarding the secession of states. [56] By the 1790 Census, the populations of Tennessee and Kentucky had grown dramatically to 73,000 and 35,000, respectively. Kentucky, Tennessee, and Vermont would all gain statehood between 1791 and 1795. [57]

With the aid of Britain and Spain, Native Americans resisted western settlement. Though Southern leaders and many nationalists lent their political support to the settlers, most Northern leaders were more concerned with trade than with western settlement, and the weak national government lacked the power to compel concessions from foreign governments. The 1784 closure of the Mississippi River by Spain denied access to the sea for the exports of Western farmers, greatly impeding efforts to settle the West, and they provided arms to Native Americans. [58] The British had restricted settlement of the trans-Appalachian lands prior to 1776, and they continued to supply arms to Native Americans after the signing of the Treaty of Paris. Between 1783 and 1787, hundreds of settlers died in low-level conflicts with Native Americans, and these conflicts discouraged further settlement. [58] As Congress provided little military support against the Native Americans, most of the fighting was done by the settlers. [59] By the end of the decade, the frontier was engulfed in the Northwest Indian War against a confederation of Native American tribes. [60] These Native Americans sought the creation of an independent Indian barrier state with the support of the British, posing a major foreign policy challenge to the United States. [61]

A brief economic recession followed the war, but prosperity returned by 1786. [62] About 80,000 Loyalists left the U.S. for elsewhere in the British Empire, leaving the lands and properties behind. [34] [63] Some returned after the war, especially to more welcoming states like New York [64] and South Carolina. [65] Economically mid-Atlantic states recovered particularly quickly and began manufacturing and processing goods, while New England and the South experienced more uneven recoveries. [66] Trade with Britain resumed, and the volume of British imports after the war matched the volume from before the war, but exports fell precipitously. [34] Adams, serving as the ambassador to Britain, called for a retaliatory tariff in order to force the British to negotiate a commercial treaty, particularly regarding access to Caribbean markets. However, Congress lacked the power to regulate foreign commerce or compel the states to follow a unified trade policy, and Britain proved unwilling to negotiate. [67] While trade with the British did not fully recover, the U.S. expanded trade with France, the Netherlands, Portugal, and other European countries. Despite these good economic conditions, many traders complained of the high duties imposed by each state, which served to restrain interstate trade. Many creditors also suffered from the failure of domestic governments to repay debts incurred during the war. [34] Though the 1780s saw moderate economic growth, many experienced economic anxiety, and Congress received much of the blame for failing to foster a stronger economy. [68]

In the decade after the end of the Revolutionary War, the United States benefited from a long period of peace in Europe, as no country posed a direct threat and immediate threat to the United States. Nevertheless, the weakness of the central government, and the desire of localists to keep the national government from assuming powers held by the state governments, greatly hindered diplomacy. [69] In 1776, the Continental Congress had drafted the Model Treaty, which served as a guide for U.S. foreign policy during the 1780s. The treaty sought to abolish trade barriers such as tariffs, while avoiding political or military entanglements. [70] In this, it reflected the foreign policy priorities of many Americans, who sought to play a large role in the global trading community while avoiding war. Lacking a strong military, and divided by differing sectional priorities, the U.S. was often forced to accept unfavorable terms of trade during the 1780s. [71]

Britain Edit

William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne, served as Prime Minister during the negotiations that led to the Treaty of Paris. Shelburne favored peaceful relations and increased trade with the U.S., but his government fell in 1783, and his successors were less intent on amicable relations with the United States. [72] Many British leaders hoped that the U.S. would ultimately collapse due to its lack of cohesion, at which point Britain could re-establish hegemony over North America. [73] In western territories—chiefly in present-day Wisconsin and Michigan—the British retained control of several forts and continued to cultivate alliances with Native Americans. [73] These policies impeded U.S. settlement and allowed Britain to extract profits from the lucrative fur trade. [74] The British justified their continued occupation of the forts on the basis that the American had blocked the collection of pre-war debts owed to British citizens, which a subsequent investigation by Jay confirmed. As there was little the powerless Congress could do to coerce the states into action, the British retained their justification for the occupation of the forts until the matter was settled by the Jay Treaty in 1795. [75]

Jay emphasized the need for expanded international trade, specifically with Great Britain, which conducted by far the most international trade. [76] However, Britain continued to pursue mercantilist economic policies, excluded the U.S. from trading with its Caribbean colonies, and flooded the U.S. with manufactured goods. [77] U.S. merchants responded by opening up an entirely new market in China. Americans eagerly purchased tea, silks, spices, and chinaware, while the Chinese were eager for American ginseng and furs. [78]

Spain Edit

Spain fought the British as an ally of France during the Revolutionary War, but it distrusted the ideology of republicanism and was not officially an ally of the United States. [79] Spain controlled the territories of Florida and Louisiana, positioned to the south and west of the United States. Americans had long recognized the importance of navigation rights on the Mississippi River, as it was the only realistic outlet for many settlers in the trans-Appalachian lands to ship their products to other markets, including the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. [80]

Despite having fought a common enemy in the Revolutionary War, Spain saw U.S. expansionism as a threat to its empire. Seeking to stop the American settlement of the Old Southwest, Spain denied the U.S. navigation rights on the Mississippi River, provided arms to Native Americans, and recruited friendly American settlers to the sparsely populated territories of Florida and Louisiana. [81] Working with Alexander McGillivray, Spain signed treaties with Creeks, the Chickasaws, and the Choctaws to make peace among themselves and ally with Spain, but the pan-Indian coalition proved unstable. [82] [83] [84] Spain also bribed American General James Wilkinson in a plot to make much of the southwestern United States secede, but nothing came of it. [85]

Despite geopolitical tensions, Spanish merchants welcomed trade with the United States and encouraged the U.S. to set up consulates in Spain's New World colonies. [86] A new line of commerce emerged in which American merchants imported goods from Britain and then resold them to the Spanish colonies. [87] The U.S. and Spain reached the Jay–Gardoqui Treaty, which would have required the U.S. to renounce any right to access the Mississippi River for twenty-five years in return for a commercial treaty and the mutual recognition of borders. In 1786, Jay submitted the treaty to Congress, precipitating a divisive debate. [85] Southerners, led by James Monroe of Virginia, opposed the provision regarding the Mississippi and accused Jay of favoring Northeastern commercial interests over western growth. Ratification of treaties required nine votes under the Articles of Confederation, and all five Southern states voted against ratification, dooming the treaty. [88]

France Edit

Under the leadership of Foreign Minister Vergennes, France had entered the Revolutionary War, in large part to damage the British. The French were an indispensable ally during the war, providing supplies, finances, and a powerful navy. [89] In 1778, France and the United States signed the Treaty of Alliance, establishing a "perpetual" military alliance, as well as the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, which established commercial ties. [90] In the Treaty of Paris, Britain consented to relatively favorable terms to the United States partly out of a desire to weaken U.S. dependency on France. After the war, the U.S. sought increased trade with France, but commerce between the two countries remained limited. [91] The U.S. also requested French aid in pressuring the British to evacuate their forts in U.S. territory, but the French were not willing to intervene in Anglo-American relations again. [92]

Other issues Edit

John Adams, as ambassador to the Netherlands, managed to convince the small country to break its alliance with Britain, join the war alongside France, and provide funding and formal recognition to the United States in 1782. The Netherlands, along with France, became the major American ally in Europe. [93]

The Barbary pirates, who operated out of the North African states of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, posed a threat to shipping in the Mediterranean Sea during the late 18th century. The major European powers paid the Barbary pirates tribute to avoid their raids, but the U.S. was not willing to meet the terms sought by the pirates, in part due to the national government's lack of money. As such, the pirates preyed on U.S. shipping during the 1780s. [94] [95]

Reform efforts Edit

The end of the war in 1783 temporarily ended any possibility of the states giving up power to a central government, but many in and out of Congress continued to favor a stronger national government. Soldiers and former soldiers formed a powerful bloc calling for a stronger national government, which they believed would have allowed for better war-time leadership. They were joined by merchants, who wanted a strong national government to provide order and sound economic policies, and many expansionists, who believed the national government could best protect American lands in the West. [96] Additionally, John Jay, Henry Knox, and others called for an independent executive who could govern more decisively than a large, legislative body like Congress. [97] Despite growing feelings of nationalism, particularly among younger Americans, the efforts of nationalists to grant Congress greater powers were defeated by those who preferred the continued supremacy of the states. [96] Most Americans saw the Revolutionary War as a struggle against a strong government, and few state leaders were willing to surrender their own state's sovereignty. [98] In 1786, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina led the creation of a grand congressional committee to consider constitutional amendments. The committee proposed seven amendments, and its proposals would have granted the central government the power to regulate commerce and fine states that failed to supply adequate funding to Congress. Congress failed to act on these proposals, and reformers began to take action outside of Congress. [99]

Calling the Philadelphia Convention Edit

In 1785, Washington hosted the Mount Vernon Conference, which established an agreement between Maryland and Virginia regarding several commercial issues. Encouraged by this example of interstate cooperation, Madison convinced the Virginia assembly to host another conference, the Annapolis Convention, with the goal of promoting interstate trade. [100] Only five state delegations attended the convention, but the delegates that did attend largely agreed on the need to reform the federal government. The delegates called for a second convention to take place in 1787 in Philadelphia to consider constitutional reform. In the months after the Annapolis Convention, reformers took steps to ensure better turnout at the next convention. They secured the blessing of Congress to consider constitutional reform and made sure to invite Washington, the most prominent national leader. The nationalist call for a constitutional convention was bolstered by the outbreak of Shays' Rebellion, which convinced many of the need for a national government powerful enough to help suppress uprisings. [101]

Though there was not a widespread feeling in the population that the Articles of Confederation needed major reform, the leaders of each state recognized the problems posed by the weak national government. When the Philadelphia Convention opened in May 1787, every state but Rhode Island sent a delegation. Three quarters of the delegates had served in Congress, and all recognized the difficulty, and importance, of amending the Articles. Though each delegate feared the loss of their own state's power, there was wide agreement among the delegates that the United States required a stronger federal government capable of effectively managing foreign relations and ensuring national security. Many also hoped to establish a uniform currency and national copyright and immigration laws. With the attendance of powerful and respected leaders like Washington and Franklin, who helped provide some measure of legitimacy to the convocation, the delegates agreed to pursue sweeping changes to the national government. [102]

Writing a new constitution Edit

Shortly after the convention began in September 1787, delegates elected Washington to preside over the convention and agreed that the meetings would not be open to the public. The latter decision allowed for the consideration of an entirely new constitution, as open consideration of a new constitution would likely have inspired great public outcry. Led by James Madison, Virginia's delegates introduced a set of reforms known as the Virginia Plan, which called for a stronger national government with three independent branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial. The plan envisioned a strong federal government with the power to nullify state laws. Madison's plan was well-received and served as the basis for the convention's discussion, though several of its provisions were altered over the course of the convention. [103] During the convention, Madison and James Wilson of Pennsylvania emerged as two of the most important advocates of a new constitution based on the Virginia Plan, while prominent opponents to the final document would include Edmund Randolph, George Mason, and Elbridge Gerry. [104]

The balance of power between the federal government and the state governments emerged as the most debated topic of the convention, and the convention ultimately agreed to a framework in which the federal and state governments shared power. The federal government would regulate interstate and foreign commerce, coin money, and oversee foreign relations, but states would continue to exercise power in other areas. A second major issue was the allocation of congressional representatives. Delegates from large states wanted representation in Congress to be proportional to population, while delegates from smaller states preferred that each state receive equal representation. In the Connecticut Compromise, the delegates agreed to create a bicameral Congress in which each state received equal representation in the upper house (the Senate), while representation in the lower house (the House of Representatives) was apportioned by population. The issue of slavery also threatened to derail the convention, though national abolition was not a priority for Northern delegates. The delegates agreed to the Three-Fifths Compromise, which counted three-fifths of the slave population for the purposes of taxation and representation. Southerners also won inclusion of the Fugitive Slave Clause, which allowed owners to recover their escaped slaves from free states, as well as a clause that forbid Congress from banning the Atlantic slave trade until 1808. The delegates of the convention also sought to limit the democratic nature of the new constitution, with indirect elections established for the Senate and the office of the President of the United States, who would lead the executive branch. [105]

The proposed constitution contained several other important differences from the Articles of Confederation. States saw their economic power severely curtailed, and notably were barred from impairing contracts. While members of the Congress of the Confederation and most state legislators served one-year terms, members of the House would serve for two-year terms and members of the Senate would serve for six-year terms. Neither house of Congress would be subject to term limits. Though the states would elect members of the Senate, the House of Representatives would be elected directly by the people. The president would be elected independent of the legislature, and hold broad powers over foreign affairs, military policy, and appointments. The president also received the power to veto legislation. The judicial power of the United States would be vested in the Supreme Court of the United States and any inferior courts established by Congress, and these courts would have jurisdiction over federal issues. The amendment process would no longer require unanimous consent of the states, although it still required the approval of Congress and a majority of states. [106]

Struggle for ratification Edit

Constitutional ratification by state [107]
Date State Votes
Yea Nay
1 December 7, 1787 Delaware 30 0
2 December 11, 1787 Pennsylvania 46 23
3 December 18, 1787 New Jersey 38 0
4 January 2, 1788 Georgia 26 0
5 January 9, 1788 Connecticut 128 40
6 February 6, 1788 Massachusetts 187 168
7 April 26, 1788 Maryland 63 11
8 May 23, 1788 South Carolina 149 73
9 June 21, 1788 New Hampshire 57 47
10 June 25, 1788 Virginia 89 79
11 July 26, 1788 New York 30 27
12 November 21, 1789 North Carolina 194 77
13 May 29, 1790 Rhode Island 34 32

Ratification of the Constitution written at the Philadelphia Convention was not assured, as opponents of a stronger federal government mobilized against ratification. Even by the end of the convention, sixteen of the fifty-five delegates had either left the convention or refused to sign the document. [108] Article Seven of the Constitution provided for submission of the document to state conventions, rather than Congress or the state legislatures, for ratification. Though Congress had not authorized consideration of a new Constitution, most members of Congress respected the stature of the leaders who had assembled in Philadelphia. [109] Roughly one-third of the members of Congress had been delegates at the Philadelphia Convention, and these former delegates proved to be powerful advocates for the new constitution. After debating for several days, Congress transmitted the Constitution to the states without recommendation, letting each state decide for itself whether or not to ratify the document. [110]

Ratification of the Constitution required the approval of nine states. The ratification debates in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia were of particular importance, as they were the four largest and most powerful states in the nation. [109] Those who advocated ratification took the name Federalists. To sway the closely divided New York legislature, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay anonymously published The Federalist Papers, which became seminal documents that affected the debate in New York and other states. [111] Opponents of the new constitution became known as Anti-Federalists. Though most Anti-Federalists acknowledged the need for changes to the Articles of Confederation, they feared the establishment of a powerful, and potentially tyrannical, central government. Members of both camps held wide ranges of views for example, some Anti-Federalists like Luther Martin wanted only minor changes to the Articles of Confederation, while others such as George Mason favored a less powerful version of the federal government proposed by the Constitution. [112] Federalists were strongest in eastern, urban counties, while Anti-Federalists tended to be stronger in rural areas. [113] Each faction engaged in a spirited public campaign to shape the ratification debate, though the Federalists tended to be better financed and organized. Over time, the Federalists were able to convince many in the skeptical public of the merits of the new Constitution. [114]

The Federalists won their first ratification victories in December 1787, when Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey all ratified the Constitution. [115] By the end of February 1788, six states, including Massachusetts, had ratified the Constitution. In Massachusetts, the Federalists won over skeptical delegates by promising that the first Congress of the new Constitution would consider amendments limiting the federal government's power. This promise to amend the Constitution after its ratification proved to be extremely important in other ratification debates, as it helped Federalists win the votes of those who saw the need for the Constitution but opposed some of its provisions. [116] In the following months, Maryland and South Carolina ratified the Constitution, but North Carolina voted against ratification, leaving the document just one state short of taking effect. In June 1788, New Hampshire and Virginia both ratified the document. In Virginia, as in Massachusetts, Federalists won support for the Constitution by promising ratification of several amendments. Though Anti-Federalism was strong in New York, its constitutional convention nonetheless ratified the document in July 1788 since failure to do so would leave the state outside of the union. Rhode Island, the lone state which had not sent a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention, was viewed as a lost cause by the Federalists due to its strong opposition to the proposed constitution, and it would not ratify the Constitution until 1790. [117]

1789 electoral vote totals
Name Votes [118]
George Washington 69
John Adams 34
John Jay 9
Robert H. Harrison 6
John Rutledge 6
John Hancock 4
George Clinton 3
Samuel Huntington 2
John Milton 2
James Armstrong 1
Benjamin Lincoln 1
Edward Telfair 1

In September 1788, the Congress of the Confederation formally certified that the Constitution had been ratified. It also set the date for the presidential election and the first meeting of the new federal government. Additionally, Congress engaged in debate regarding where the incoming government would meet, with Baltimore briefly emerging as the favorite. To the displeasure of Southern and Western interests, Congress ultimately chose to retain New York City as the seat of government. [119] [120]

Though Washington desired to resume his retirement following the Constitutional Convention, the American public at large anticipated that he would be the nation's first president. Federalists such as Hamilton eventually coaxed him to accept the office. On February 4, 1789, the Electoral College, the mechanism established by the Constitution to conduct the indirect presidential elections, met for the first time, with each state's presidential electors gathering in their state's capital. Under the rules then in place, each elector could vote for two persons (but the two people chosen by the elector could not both inhabit the same state as that elector), with the candidate who won the most votes becoming president and the candidate with the second-most becoming vice president. Each elector cast one vote for Washington, while John Adams won the most votes of all other candidates, and thus won election as vice president. Electors from 10 of the 13 states cast votes. There were no votes from New York, because the New York legislature failed to appoint its allotted electors in time North Carolina and Rhode Island did not participate as they had not yet ratified the Constitution. [121] [122]

The Federalists performed well in the concurrent House and Senate elections, ensuring that the both chambers of United States Congress would be dominated by proponents of the federal government established by the Constitution. [123] This in turn ensured that there would not be a constitutional convention to propose amendments, which many Federalists had feared would critically weaken the national government. [124]

The new federal government commenced operations with the seating of the 1st Congress in March 1789 and the inauguration of Washington the following month. In September 1789, Congress approved the United States Bill of Rights, a group of Constitutional amendments designed to protect individual liberties against federal interference, and the states ratified these amendments in 1791. After Congress voted for the Bill of Rights, North Carolina and Rhode Island ratified the Constitution in 1790 and 1791, respectively. [123] [124]

The period of American history between the end of the American Revolutionary War and the ratification of the Constitution has also been referred to as the "critical period" of American history. During the 1780s, many thought that the country was experiencing a crisis of leadership, as reflected by John Quincy Adams's statement in 1787 that the country was in the midst of a "critical period". [125] In his 1857 book, The Diplomatic History of the Administrations of Washington and Adams, William Henry Trescot became the first historians to apply the phrase "America's Critical Period" to the era in American history between 1783 and 1789. The phrase was popularized by John Fiske's 1888 book, The Critical Period of American History. Fiske's use of the term "critical period" refers to the importance of the era in determining whether the United States would establish a stronger national government or break up into multiple sovereign states. The term "critical period" thus implicitly accepts the Federalist critique of the Articles of Confederation. Other historians have used an alternative term, the "Confederation Period", to describe U.S. history between 1781 and 1789. [126]

Historians such as Forrest McDonald have argued that the 1780s were a time of economic and political chaos. However, other historians, including Merrill Jensen, have argued that the 1780s were actually a relatively stable, prosperous time. [127] Gordon Wood suggests that it was the idea of the Revolution and the thought that it would bring a utopian society to the new country that made it possible for people to believe they had fallen instead into a time of crisis. [128] Historian John Ferling argues that, in 1787, only the nationalists, a relatively small share of the population, viewed the era as a "Critical Period". [129] Michael Klarman argues that the decade marked a high point of democracy and egalitarianism, and views the ratification of the Constitution in 1789 as a conservative counter-revolution. [130]


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