« PreviousContinue »
THE UNITED STATES
THE NATIONAL LEGISLATURE.
Meagreness of Southern representation in Congress in the Civil War period – The great statesmen of that period
- The subsequent lowering of the Congressional standard - A new era of Congressional leadership — Important issues raised by the Civil War - Changes in Congressional procedure — Recent popular distrust of legislation and the consequent increase of executive responsibility. URING the Civil War Congress Clay, James Madison, John Marshall,
sat with incomplete member- and others of their class. The con
ship owing to the defection of stitutional struggle that ended with the Southern States. Three new the beginning of the Civil War had States were admitted to the Union and developed statesmen as no other pubthe Thirty-ninth Congress, which con- lic question could. There were strong vened in December of 1865, was still men in that period, but few great men, without Southern representation and measured by the highest standard of predominantly Union in sentiment greatness in the past. and Republican in political party com- After the close of the war came a plexion. In the Fortieth Congress period in which the average of insome of the recent disloyal States dividual ability in Congress was dewere again represented, and in the cidedly lower than it had been for a Forty-first Congress all were again in generation. One need not travel far the Union, but not with so large a to discover the reason. While war representation as before the Civil develops the highest sentiments of War.
patriotism and sacrifice, it also affords The Civil War had brought into opportunity for self-seeking and methe field of public life a few men who diocrity. Naturally Congress rein natural ability and statesmanlike flected this condition in the Nation at achievements were fully equal to the large. From the South none of those average of those who had preceded who had been leaders in the antethem. None could compare with the bellum days returned to Washington. greatest men of the past - Daniel
Daniel Many of them were dead and, in the Webster, John C. Calhoun, Henry course of events, others had been re
moved from the field of active or even questions raised by that conflict. The passive influence on public affairs. political and social reconstruction of In their places, both in the Senate and the South; questions of suffrage aristhe House, sat men of inferior ability ing from the sudden addition of an - mostly politicians of the hour,
hour, untrained and uneducated mass of fruits of carpet-bag government. Sub- negro voters; the liquidation of the sequently, after the South had become enormous war debt; the resumption politically rehabilitated, the character of specie payments — these were some of the Congressional representatives of the problems which pressed for imof the section reached a much higher mediate solution displacing in Constandard.
gressional debate and in public attenIn the North, too, the effect of the tion the great constitutional questions war was seen in the appearance in the of the preceding half-century. Later, National halls of legislation of many with the coming of the Twentieth centwho had
into prominence ury, still newer issues, raised by the through loyalty as soldiers rather than changed character of National life, from special fitness as legislators. Be- came to the fore. In the last decades fore the end of the century, however, of the old century the new issues were came a decided change in this respect. largely economic. Left over from the The war heroes had for the most part olden time, the tariff stood almost left the scene of active life; the war alone as an unsettled question that issues had been settled; entirely new had vexed the people and their repreissues had arisen; and men who were sentatives for a century. Questions giving attention to the new economic, of transportation and industry associal and industrial questions of sumed paramount importance, and, the hour figured among legislative during the two decades following 1890, leaders. In the years closely follow- legislation on these matters occupied ing the Civil War such men as James by far the greater part of the time G. Blaine, George F. Hoar, Thomas and attention of the National legisF. Bayard, Thomas A. Hendricks, lature. William M. Evarts, John Sherman Procedure in the Senate has not and a few others, were types of the changed much in a hundred years. statesmen of the period who were The Senate is still the dignified, selfsecond to none of the past. In latter restrained body it was in the begintimes Thomas B. Reed and Joseph G. ning. In the first Senate seven of the Cannon, Speakers of the House, again rules of procedure related to the persustained the best reputation for sonal deportment of members during Congressional statesmanship.
the session. No such rules are now in During the war and long after effect, yet the general bearing of the legislation naturally dealt mostly with Senators nowadays does not seem to
THE NATIONAL LEGISLATURE.
have fallen below that of their prede- by Speaker Reed changed all that
Broadly speaking, it sur- and revolutionized the parliamentary passes the best traditions of the au- practice that had prevailed from the gust Roman tribunal whose name it institution of our Government. Under proudly bears. Senator Hoar, of the Reed rules the power of the Massachusetts, well said in a speech in Speaker became autocratic, freedom the Senate a few years before his of debate was restricted, and absodeath: “ The greatest victories of lute control of the majority over disConstitutional liberty since the world cussion and final legislation was conbegan are those whose battleground firmed. After the days of Speaker has been the American Senate and Reed the system which he established whose champions have been the Sena- in the face of the most virulent optors, who, for a hundred years, while position became the recognized prothey have resisted the popular pas
cedure of the House. The control of sions of the hour, have led, repre- the business of the House, and to a sented, guided, obeyed and made ef- large extent the freedom of debate, fective the deliberate will of a free passed thereby from the House as a people.”
body to the Speaker and committees Certain changes in the form of pro- appointed by him. cedure in the House of Representa
At the close of the Nineteenth centtives after 1890 were of particular ury the States clung substantially to moment and placed that body in strik- the legislative forms with which they ing contrast with the Senate — indeed had started when the Republic was with its own historical precedents. constituted — forms inherited from
The House has always been regarded their colonial experience. In the early as particularly the popular legisla- part of the century the tendency was lative body, the body nearer to the to make the legislature supreme. The people, and therefore more respon- people had not forgotten their colonial sive than the Senate to prevailing governors and still feared the arbipopular opinions. Indeed it was trary exercise of executive and juconstituted with that end in view, and dicial powers. This feeling led to an freedom of debate on its floor was undue trust in democracy. Legislaalways considered one of its most es- tures were held less and less liable to sential and most highly prized privi- restraint by public opinion, and the leges. As a matter of actual practice, executive branch of the government however, in the Senate there is practi- had less power and was held to stricter cally no restraint upon the freedom accountability. This tendency conof debate and for a century the tinued beyond the middle of the same custom prevailed in the House. century, when popular doubt as to But the radical innovations instituted the infallibility of legislators and