Entries by Amanda Hughes

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Conclusion: The Old Senate – Guest Essayist: William Morrisey

If the writers contributing to this year’s 90-Day Study have identified a main theme for their essays, it is the difference between the way Congressional representatives understood their Constitutional duties in the first century-and-a-quarter of our Union and the ways Congressmen have come to act since Progressivism came to dominate American opinion.

From a lawmaking institution whose members consulted the Constitution and, behind it, the natural rights enunciated in the Declaration of Independence, Congress has become a constituent-service institution which attempts to oversee and negotiate with the bureaucratic apparatus of a massive national state. To be sure, it still debates and enacts laws, but very often leaves the details of those laws to the administrative agencies which enforce them, agencies which collectively amount to a fourth branch of government, and an unelected one at that. Given the re-conception of the Constitution as a ‘living’ or ‘elastic’ document, those laws may have only a remote connection to the plain meaning of the (formerly) supreme law of the land.

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Press: How Media Coverage Affects The Legislative Process – Guest Essayist: Amanda Hughes

Fake news? Real news? Newswriting has no end. What matters most among abundant sources of information, however, is an ability to maintain freedom of speech including that of the press. Certainly, without integrity in journalism news is not news and only amounts to opinion. Yet, above that, the United States Constitution includes the law that Congress is not allowed to abridge (prevent, suppress, gag) the press. To do so invites tyranny.

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Technology: Impact On & By Congress From Ink & Quill To Electronic Voting, Internet & Televised Floor Proceedings – Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner

This changed in January 1995, when the Library of Congress made digital copies of the Congressional Record available on its website. Continuous improvements now allow for user friendly search of the Record and all legislation, by anyone on the web, anytime, anywhere.

They designed and implemented the most dramatic technology revolution in Congressional history. This giant leap took House communications from the 18th Century into the 21st in one giant leap.

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Lobbying: Influence Of Lobbyists On Congress – Guest Essayist: Amanda Hughes

Some get caught up in illegal activity. Others are honest in their attempts to represent client concerns. Who are they? Lobbyists. Political lobbying has existed as long as voters and elected leaders have.

To “lobby” has been termed from various sources as one who comes to visit, to connect with others. Politically, to lobby is to seek the ear of an elected official to influence votes on legislation. This description makes any constituent who writes, visits, or calls his or her congressman, a “lobbyist.” What is it, then, that makes people cringe at the word, lobbyist?

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Role Of Congress As Representative Government & The Rise Of The Progressive Administrative State – Guest Essayists: Joseph Postell & Samuel Postell

This is surely one reason why, throughout the twentieth century, the nation witnessed a steady increase in reelection rates to Congress, the rise of career members of Congress, and a decrease in voters’ sense that the government reflects their wishes.

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Direction Of Power, Congress, And The Rise Of the Progressive Administrative State – Guest Essayist: Patrick M. Garry

The progressive administrative state has its historical roots in the New Deal agenda of the 1930s. Progressives believed that only an unrestrained federal executive branch could remedy all the effects of the Great Depression, as well as engineer society so that such a calamity would never again occur. The progressive mindset saw limited government, the private-sector economy, and the complex web of social and cultural institutions that characterized America since its colonial beginnings as means of oppression. To progressives, individual liberty gave way to the power of big government to engineer society for individuals who do not have the expertise to adequately govern themselves.

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Congress And The Rise Of The Progressive Administrative State – Guest Essayist: Marc Clauson

Progressivism is…“a total rejection in theory, and a partial rejection in practice, of the principles and policies on which America had been founded and on the basis of which the Civil War had been fought and won only a few years earlier.”

The best means or state action was the most efficient and the most efficient was a bureaucratic and centralized government that could then bypass the inefficiencies of the separation of powers and a deliberative Congress.

So while one may place some blame on the Court, an equal blame falls on Congress itself. It has delegated power to non-elected and unaccountable agencies while at the same time passing incredibly lengthy and complex legislation, thus justifying (it argues) such delegation.

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How The Democratic & Republican Parties Have Changed Throughout United States History & The Effects On Congress – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

Americans are deeply polarized in this country but often incorrectly attribute it to growing partisanship and the strength of political parties. In fact, the opposite is true. Some scholars have argued that the growing polarization in Congress and in politics more generally is a symptom of a declining two-party system and identification of Americans with one of the two major parties.

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Filibuster: History, Purpose As Used By The Senate & Effects On The Legislative Process – Guest Essayist: The Honorable Frank M. Reilly

The word “filibuster” is a variation of the Spanish word for pirate, which is indicative of the parliamentary move that stops a vote from occurring. But even though the rule change occurred in 1806, no senator threatened a filibuster until 1837, and it not used until 1841.

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Revolt Of 1910 Against House Speaker Joseph Cannon (1836-1926) (R-IL) – Guest Essayists: Joseph Postell and Samuel Postell

Every fourth of July American citizens recognize the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the revolution that gave birth to our country, but very few remember the revolution that occurred in Congress about one hundred years after the revolutionary war. That revolution has had profound effects on how Congress works today.

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Partisanship & Violence In Congress: The Caning Of Senator & Abolitionist, Charles Sumner (1811-1874) (R-MA) – Guest Essayist: George Landrith

Obviously, civility should be our standard. We can engage in robust debate. But threats and violence have no place in a constitutional republic.
A more subtle version of hyper partisanship is now in vogue. Calling upon supporters to “confront” political opponents wherever they may be, is clearly an attempt to put them in fear for their safety — without actually crossing the red line of doing them physical harm. But it is nonetheless an attempt to threaten the opposition and bully them into submission. This cannot be tolerated in a free society.

The truth is politics is a surrogate for violence and war. In a less civilized society, those who can enforce their will upon the rest of the populace become the rulers. In establishing a constitutional republic, the Founders were attempting to set aside that age old “rule by force” model of government. Instead, they created a system where the voice of the people ruled — without enforcing their will through threats and violence.

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Gridlock: Why Congress Is So Contentious & The Effects On Passage Of Good Laws – Guest Essayist: Richard E. Wagner

To be sure, we should always expect some gridlock inside political processes, as was recognized at the time of the American Constitutional founding. Our present political system, however, seems to have created a significant cleavage between those who would like to be left alone by the federal government to pursue their peaceful dreams and projects and those who seek to receive support at someone else’s expense.

Yet we must recognize that governments can’t create wealth. All they can do is take and redistribute wealth that other people have created. This property of government was recognized at the time of our Constitutional founding, and we need to recapture that founding wisdom. This does not entail streamlining government to reduce gridlock, but rather requires restoring our Constitutional system of free enterprise and limited government.

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Genius Design: How An American Bill Becomes Law – Guest Essayist: Amanda Hughes

Upwards of 5,000 bills get filed in a legislative session of Congress, and around 500 may pass. And for good reason. The process weeds out. Unfortunately, though, bills do languish in committee without further consideration that are actually better ideas for the country than others that make it through the process.

This is why lawmakers, which is what Members of Congress are, need to understand the United States Constitution to consider whether bills they are filing are constitutional before filing. It is important that they learn America’s history and founding, and how America’s founding documents such as the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, make America succeed as exceptional. It is important that lawmakers understand that America’s Constitution is the law of the land, and that the Preamble to the Constitution is only an introduction, not a precedent of law in which they may cite a constitutional purpose for filing a certain bill. Learning America’s history and founding matters so that lawmakers understand checks and balances, the balance of power that prevents the resting of too much power in one part of government. America’s elected leaders too often forget this. It is our duty, as “We The People,” to be educated ourselves, and remind them.

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Sign Or Not Sign Into Law – Getting A Bill From Congress To The President’s Desk: How Easy Should It Be? – Guest Essayist: Gary Porter

In 1776, Thomas Jefferson complained in his famous declaration that King George III had “refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.” Laws duly passed by the colonial legislatures and sent to the King often never received his signature and thus were never put into effect. Some of these bills were no doubt “wholesome and necessary.” The Framers of 1787 sought to solve this problem. They set out to ensure the “people’s voice,” as reflected in the actions of their representatives, would never be muted.

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Will They Agree? When Legislation Must Go To A Conference Committee After The House And Senate – Guest Essayist: Amanda Hughes

The slow and often tiresome processes of Congress come from a long history that America’s Founders seriously considered when designing a new system of government for the new country, and its Constitution as they realized firsthand how difficult it was to escape unchecked power. A weary, exasperated John Adams wrote in a letter to his wife Abigail in 1777 during the American Revolutionary War that highlights the importance of weighing decisions with careful deliberation, resolve and eyes on the future:

“Posterity! You will never know, how much it cost the present Generation, to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make a good Use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.”

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From Committee To Floor Vote: Role Of The American People In The Congressional Committee Process – Guest Essayist: Amanda Hughes

The committee process in Congress can play a significant role in revealing true intentions of legislation so that voters, including United States House of Representatives and Senate Members, know just what each bill is about exactly, and receive opportunities especially to work out any unintended consequences before a bill gets to the House or Senate Floor for a vote.

Various committees exist in both the House and Senate on issues from Agriculture, to Homeland Security, to Small Business to Ways and Means, and more. Some committees are standing or permanent, and others are temporary such as conferences committees designed to work out differences between bill versions in the House and Senate. All can make a difference in maintaining accountability, efficiency, transparency, and integrity in America’s representative government.

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Constitutional Muster – How Representative Government Happens During Congressional Committee Hearings – Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner

Congressional hearings, the embodiment of representative government, are deteriorating. This undermines the carefully crafted balancing of powers in the U.S. Constitution.

Representative government means its elected officials must do their duty. Even “boring” management oversight is important, especially to taxpayers concerned about how their hard-earned money is spent.

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Committees – History & Purpose In The United States Congress – Guest Essayists: Joseph Postell & Samuel Postell

Committees provide Congress with a double-edged sword. They help Congress do its job, but they also threaten to subvert the legislative process, dividing Congress into many subunits, each of which advance a narrow, special interest rather than the common good. If they are not held accountable to the whole Congress, through rules that allow party leaders to influence committees and allow members to amend legislation after it leaves committees, they can threaten the very purpose of Congress: to make laws that reflect the sense of the majority rather than the interests of the powerful.

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Introducing Legislation – How Does Congress Get Ideas For Bills? – Guest Essayist: Amanda Hughes

Intriguing is the story of America’s history and ideas at the core of its start. Involved in an interesting mix of proposals on how to meet needs for order, balance of power, and representative government, it began by making sure America on every level would be equipped to develop as free people and remain so, and run without getting in its own way.

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Ideas Of Liberty For A Free People – Guest Essayists: W. David Stedman And LaVaughn G. Lewis

“…one must understand something of the spirit of the people who had been experimenting successfully with liberty for over 165 years when the Constitution was framed.”

It is clear that Americans were educated in the ideas of liberty for several generations. As late as 1830, Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville observed among the general population of America the same high degree of education and understanding of basic principles. “It cannot be doubted that in the United States the instruction of the people powerfully contributes to the support of the democratic republic….” Even in outlying areas, he said, the American “will inform you what his rights are and by what means he exercises them….”

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Germane – What Should And Should Not Be Placed In A Bill To Keep Legislation Easy To Understand And Appropriate – Guest Essayist: James D. Best

How do we force easy-to-understand laws that lawmakers and law-abiding citizens can comprehend? By insisting Congress pass smaller, single issue bills. In the real world, point solutions are popular because they are doable … and results can be measured. If something needs fixing, focus legislation on the broken part, and leave the rest alone until the new law’s effectiveness can be assessed. If there are multiple broken parts, Congress should avoid a comprehensive redesign that allows everyone to get their fingers into the cookie jar.

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Length Of Legislation: Why Bills Have Grown Significantly Longer Over The History Of The United States Congress – Guest Essayist: Marc Clauson

Why is Congressional legislation since the 1980s so lengthy and complex? Can this and should it be addressed as a problem or is it simply the product of our modern economic and political world? Those are the questions to be addressed in this essay. They are not however idle questions. It does make a difference when modern legislation is so long and sometimes extremely complex and vague, to the citizen who wishes to comply with it but cannot understand it, or to the courts who must interpret it. Not only that, but when legislation becomes so intricate, this gives the administrative agencies charged with implementing it through regulations and adjudication much more discretion and power than a constitutional system would envision.

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History And Purpose Of Rules In The United States House Of Representatives And Senate – Guest Essayist: Amanda Hughes

“be in all cases the most rational or not, is really not of so great importance. It is much more material that there should be a rule to go by than what that rule is; that there may be a uniformity of proceeding in business, not subject to the caprice of the Speaker or captiousness of the members. It is very material that order, decency, and regularity be preserved in a dignified public body.” –Thomas Jefferson, Manual of Parliamentary Practice

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Congressional Aides: How Staff Assist Congress Members & Help Them Understand Bills – Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner

By the end of the 19th Century Congress had only 146 staff members: 37 Senate personal staff, 39 Senate committee staff, and 62 House committee staff (37 of whom only worked during congressional sessions). In 1893, the House approved the first personal staff for its Members.

The Populist and Progressive movements ignited government regulation of America’s burgeoning economy. New federal agencies meant dramatic increases in spending and the need for vigorous Congressional oversight of Executive Branch activities.

Except for limiting government during the Administration of President Calvin Coolidge, the role, scope, and size of the federal activities grew rapidly and never stopped. Congress introduced, considered, and passed more and more laws facilitating this expansion. By the early 1970s over 26,000 legislative bills and resolutions were being introduced during each two-year Congress.

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Roles: House Speaker, President Of The Senate, Majority, Minority Leaders And Whips For An Effective Congress (Part 2) – Guest Essayist: Amanda Hughes

The various roles established throughout the course of American history are proving effective though some want to rid America’s Congress of its Members almost immediately after an election. However, made up of imperfect people who would fail at times yet try again, America’s Founders and Constitution Framers showed up for known, imminent challenges, and against just about impossible odds to succeed. They did so believing something better could exist and pursued a new type of governing that if maintained by the electorate would offer the most freedom for those it represented.

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Roles: House Speaker, President Of The Senate, Majority, Minority Leaders And Whips For An Effective Congress (Part 1) – Guest Essayist: Amanda Hughes

Leadership roles in the United States House of Representatives and Senate help advance the purpose of Congress and why each member was elected – to serve. Various positions bring in members who offer each Congress that convenes unique experience and abilities.

Development of leadership roles that would carry into the new, settled governing system was in the making in the years surrounding the first, second, and third Continental Congresses and into the first United States Congress.

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Separation Of Powers, Checks & Balances And Impeachment: Presidents Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton – Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer

Our founders had great faith in the rationality of American leaders—but they also recognized that men were fallible. As James Madison wrote in Federalist #51:
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”

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Treaty-Making Power Of Congress – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

In the early republic, the founding generation took the treaty-making provisions of the Constitution seriously even as they sought to define the parameters of those constitutional powers. As the first president, George Washington, in particular, tried to set the right constitutional precedents and observe the proper balance of powers with relation to the legislative branch. Although the battles over the treaty-making authority could be highly contentious, the fights took place within a constitutional framework and helped establish the principles of American foreign policy.

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Congress, Declarations Of War And Authorization Of Force, And War Powers Act – Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer

“[T]he Constitution protects us from our own best intentions: It divides power among sovereigns and among branches of government precisely so that we may resist the temptation to concentrate power in one location as an expedient solution to the crisis of the day.”

And the founders were incredibly suspicious of the power to wage war being abused by a centralized government. They had seen firsthand the arbitrary and cavalier ways in which monarchs, and not just the British monarchy, were using war, and had used war throughout the world’s history, as a way of building empire, and glory, and power.

This is NOT what they wanted these United States to be—and so they made it difficult for the nation to wage war.

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Power Of The Purse And The Congressional Budget Process – Guest Essayist: Amanda Hughes

One of the most important tasks Congress must complete is to set a budget. It is especially important for members of Congress to understand how the budget works in order to best represent and serve the American people. For this reason, our United States Constitution framers recognized the need for a system that could remain within the knowledge and control of the people who would entrust power to their elected representatives concerning the nation’s finances.

The framers did not want to repeat what they observed in England where the king was able to direct funds rather than the citizenry directing funds. The framers instead put together a different form of government that left control or “power of the purse” in the hands of the people. This is how Congress, the legislative branch, was placed in charge of taxing and spending, a system by which voters could have a say in the direction of funds and hold their representatives accountable.

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Congressional Oversight Of Federal Bureaucracy – Guest Essayist: Richard Wagner

It is commonplace to assert that Congress exercises oversight over federal bureaus and executive agencies. But is this a reasonable assertion? Or might it represent a romantic yearning for an earlier and simpler age, or even for an age that never existed?

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Federalism, The Senate, And The Constitution – Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer

..the Constitution was created as a document that turned the nature of government on its head. Power, narrowly and carefully ceded, flowed from the people to their government.

The founders were explicit about this because they knew that over time, people would come to forget the tyrannies Americans had faced at the beginning of our nation’s history (and before).

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Federalism: Legislative Power Of Congress And The State And Local Levels – Guest Essayist: Patrick Garry

Defined as a system of dual sovereignty, federalism envisions a constitutional order in which national and state governments each possess their own sphere of autonomy and authority.

Whereas the concept of separation of powers operates on a horizontal level, ensuring the autonomy of the different branches (legislative, executive and judicial) within any one level of government (state or national), federalism operates vertically, ensuring the autonomy of those different levels. Both federalism and separation of powers act as a coordinated system of checks and balances. Separation of powers checks the various branches, while federalism checks the different levels of government. Under federalism, autonomous states with their own sphere of power can help prevent a national government from abusing its power.

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Elections & The Great Compromise Of 1787: Proportional Representation & Voting Power Per State – Guest Essayist: Robert McDonald

The democratic republic that resulted was to be a means to an end even greater than itself. Although the framers of the Constitution imagined different ways to achieve their goal, they refused to compromise their commitment to secure the blessings of liberty.

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May 31: Midterm Elections: Purpose And Importance For Successful Functioning Of Congress – Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner

“The House of Representatives is so constituted as to support in the members an habitual recollection of their dependence on the people. Before the sentiments impressed on their minds by the mode of their elevation can be effaced by the exercise of power, they will be compelled to anticipate the moment when their power is to cease, when their exercise of it is to be reviewed, and when they must descend to the level from which they were raised; there forever to remain unless a faithful discharge of their trust shall have established their title to a renewal of it.” Federalist No. 57

The Senate, having six year terms for its members, would be a defense against, “particular moments in public affairs when the people, stimulated by some irregular passion, or some illicit advantage, or misled by the artful misrepresentations of interested men, may call for measures which they themselves will afterwards be the most ready to lament and condemn.” Federalist No 63

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May 30: Counting The Personal Cost: Impact Running For Elected Office & Serving In Congress Has On Members And Their Families – Guest Essayist: James D. Best

Being a congressperson or senator is like having three jobs that consume every waking moment. The two chambers also make different demands on families…

Dealing with reality versus perception presented another challenge. Issues and people in the media are distorted for political purposes. Politicians understand that the opposition will build misperceptions about who they are, what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it. It comes with the territory. But spouses, children, and other relatives must live daily with slanted attacks on one of their beloved family members.

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May 29: Campaign Finance: A History, Related Laws, And Impact On Running For Congress – Guest Essayist: The Honorable Frank M. Reilly

Over the last 111 years, Congress has sought to regulate how its own elections are financed. Like most regulations, campaign finance laws have become increasingly more intensive and complex, though the U.S. Supreme Court has occasionally stepped in when Congress has overstepped either the powers granted to it in Article I of the Constitution, or the First Amendment rights of candidates, citizens, or associations of citizens.

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May 24: Election Of Congress: Why Election Method Matters For Stability And Continuity Of Representative Government – Guest Essayist: Gary R. Porter

The “election method” of Congress has many facets: who is entitled to vote, how they vote, even such mundane things as how votes are counted (does a hanging chad count?). As Madison reminds us: “the essence of government is power and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.”

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May 23: Direct Election And How The Number Of Constituents Per Congressional District Affects Representation – Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

James Madison observed in Federalist 52, “[I]t is particularly essential that the [House of Representatives] should have an … intimate sympathy with, the people.” At the same time, he wrote four essays later, “The truth is, that in all cases, a certain number at least seems to be necessary to secure the benefits of free consultation and discussion; and to guard against too easy a combination for improper purposes: as on the other hand, the number ought at most to be kept within a certain limit, in order to avoid the confusion and intemperance of a multitude….Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.”

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May 22: Rule Of Law: Do Our Laws Apply To All? – Guest Essayist: Gary Porter

“[W]here there is no law, there is no liberty; and nothing deserves the name of law but that which is certain and universal in its operation upon all the members of the community,” wrote Founder Benjamin Rush in a 1788 letter to David Ramsay. (Emphasis added) Do our laws apply to all?

Interpreting Benjamin Rush, do these laws deserve the name of law if they only apply to “ordinary Americans” and not the elite of Congress?

The Rule of Law should be the bedrock of our society; but this “bedrock” has the appearance today of shifting sand.

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May 21: Rule Of Law As The Bedrock Of American Society – Guest Essayist: Gary Porter

“If it be asked, What is the most sacred duty and the greatest source of our security in a Republic? The answer would be, an inviolable respect for the Constitution and Laws — the first growing out of the last.” – Alexander Hamilton

“Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny,” said Englishman Edmund Burke. The Roman historian Tacitus expressed a similar sentiment: “Formerly we suffered from crimes. Now we suffer from laws.” “[I]f the public are bound to yield obedience to laws to which they cannot give their approbation, they are slaves to those who make such laws and enforce them,” complained “Candidus” in the Boston Gazette on January 20, 1772. Finally, a civil law which contravenes natural law is either “spoilt law” (Thomas Aquinas) or of “no validity” (Blackstone).

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May 18: Rule Of Law And Separation Of Powers: Preservers Of Liberty – Guest Essayist: Richard E. Wagner

A tendency is not inevitability, however, and rule of law and separation of powers are important facets of a constitution of liberty, though these must be fought for continually because they don’t arise naturally, and they won’t remain in place tomorrow just because they are here today. Liberty is a perpetual struggle against forces of social and political entropy.

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May 17: Rule Of Law: Accountable, Not Arbitrary, In Regards To Representing The American People – Guest Essayist: Marc Clauson

“The most important demand of the Rule of Law is that people in positions of authority should exercise their power within a constraining framework of well-established public norms rather than in an arbitrary, ad hoc, or purely discretionary manner on the basis of their own preferences or ideology. It insists that the government should operate within a framework of law in everything it does, and that it should be accountable through law when there is a suggestion of unauthorized action by those in power.”

The essential idea is that no ruler or governing body is above the law, even those who actually make those laws.

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May 16: Rule Of Law: Meaning And Importance To Functions Of Congress In Representing The American People – Guest Essayist: Adam MacLeod

The phrase, “the rule of law,” means that the power and discretion of those who exercise government powers is constrained. Officials may not do whatever they want. They must instead act according to rules, rights, customs, and other laws. This is the significance of John Adams’s classic formulation, which he enshrined in the Massachusetts Constitution, that the goal of the Constitution was to produce a “government of laws, and not of men.”

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May 15: Barbara Jordan (1936-1996) (D-TX) – Congresswoman And Judiciary Committee Member – Guest Essayist: Patrick Cox

“My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total. I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution. It is reason and not passion which must guide our deliberations, guide our debate, and guide our decision.” – Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (D-TX) speaking during the House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearings on President Richard Nixon, July 25, 1974.

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May 14: Representative Government: The Founders’ Design For The American People To Rule Within A Civil Society – Guest Essayist: James D. Best

The Framers knew the country needed a stouter government than the Articles of Confederation provided, but they had only recently fought a war to escape a king and had no intention of reimposing that kind of oppressive power on the new nation. The country needed a stronger government, but not so strong it could override the will of the people.

James Madison wrote, “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” He and his fellow delegates enabled this objective by enumerating specific, balanced powers to each branch, and then purposely giving each branch checks on the other branches. First balance powers between the branches of government, and then place checks on those powers so they may not be abused. As the first three words of the Constitution assert, the Framers felt the American people should rule the government, not vice versa.

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May 11: Virginia House Of Burgesses And Colonial Legislatures As The Basis For Consent And American Self-Government – Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

If Congress concerned itself only with matters necessarily national or international in scope, this view need not raise concerns. But as Congress busies itself with more and greater intrusions into personal decisions, such as health insurance, one might ponder if the same alienation felt by Americans of the 1770s towards the far-away British government is not felt 250 years later by Americans towards their own. Do such laws still meaningfully reflect the consent of the governed so emphatically proclaimed by the House of Burgesses against the Stamp Act?

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May 10: Holding Power Accountable: Magna Carta, Parliament, And The Origins Of Representative Congress – Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner

Magna Carta’s revolutionary concept of holding the King accountable for a breach of contract with England’s nobles was broadened in the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson established rights above Common Law and Medieval precedents with the famous phrase, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

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May 9: Magna Carta (The Great Charter), Parliament And The Origins Of Representative Congress – Guest Essayist: Marc Clauson

The final version of the American Congress can be traced back to the Magna Carta itself, but in addition, our Founders drew on a rich source of political ideas that developed throughout the same period from Magna Carta on. The initiating event then was the core of the British “Ancient Constitution,” but the foundation was the growing notion that the people ought to play a greater role in making laws. The representative body was the mechanism to achieve that goal.

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May 8: The Challenge Of Congressional Representation (2013) By Richard Fenno: A Summary – Guest Essayist: The Honorable Frank Reilly

“There’s a natural tension between being a good representative and taking an interest in government,” said Conable. Toward the end of his Congressional career, he began to believe his interest in government was beginning to overtake his desire to be a good representative.

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May 7: Newt Gingrich (1943) – House Speaker, Republican Whip From Georgia; Led The 1994 Contract With America – Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner

Rep. Thomas Reed (R-ME) comes closest to Gingrich’s impact on the Legislative Branch. Reed was known for his communication ability, and his mastery of parliamentary procedure. As speaker (1889-1891/1895-1899) he mastered both of these skills to bring the House of Representatives back into alignment with the original rules written by Thomas Jefferson. Many consider his success assured the “survival of representative government”. Gingrich remains an insightful commentator and provocative thinker. Returning the House to the rule of law, and being highly responsive to the will of the voter, remain lasting historic achievements that strengthened our democracy.

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May 4: Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003) – Senate Member From New York, Democratic Party Leader – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

Moynihan is one of a dying breed in Washington- someone who effectively could interact with members and presidents from the opposing political party and who as Avalon notes tried to bring the long perspective to various issues. 

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May 2: Thomas Phillip, Jr. (Tip) O’Neill (1912-1994) – House Speaker, Democratic Whip & Majority Leader From Massachusetts – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

While Tip and Reagan had different political views and approaches, they showed that great debates and the efforts of compromise sometimes can result in good end results for the nation.

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May 1: Robert Taft (1889-1953) – State Representative, U.S. Senator From Ohio; Son Of President William Howard Taft – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

Taft was known as “Mr. Republican” because of his allegiance to limited government at home and a non-interventionist foreign policy that represented mainstream Republican thinking during the mid-twentieth century. While not the most gregarious politician, he was a well-respected, diligent statesman who dedicated his life to an ideal of public service.

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April 30: Michael Mansfield 1903-2001 House Member Senate Majority Leader MT Guest Essayist James Legee

Michael Joseph Mansfield served as both representative and senator from the state of Montana, and would go on to serve as United States Ambassador to Japan. Mansfield was born March 16, 1903 in New York though his life soon took a turn for the difficult.

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April 27: Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) (1908-1973) 36th U.S. President, Vice President, House Member, Senate Minority & Majority Leader From Texas – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

LBJ is remembered for his significant legislative achievements both as a member of Congress over a long period of time and in his Vice President and President roles.

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April 26: Howard Worth Smith (1883-1976) – House Member From Virginia, Rules Committee Chairman – Guest Essayist: Bruce Dierenfield

Howard W. Smith, a Virginia Democratic congressman, was one of America’s most powerful politicians from the New Deal to the Great Society. A master obstructionist who chaired the House Rules Committee, he used his power to fight the liberal agendas of presidential administrations from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Lyndon B. Johnson.

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April 25: Samuel Rayburn (1882-1961) – House Speaker From Texas – Guest Essayist: Patrick Cox

Samuel Taliaferro Rayburn was one of the most influential and respected leaders in American history.  Rayburn served with distinction as he achieved many important changes to American society, government and the nation’s economy.   Rayburn holds the record for serving longer than any other Speaker of the House in U.S. history. According to longtime friend and colleague Congressman Richard Bolling, Rayburn was cleverly described as the “baldest and levelest head in Washington.”

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April 24: Thomas Brackett Reed (1839-1902) – House Speaker From Maine Known For “Reed’s Rules” – Guest Essayists: Joseph Postell & Samuel Postell

Today’s Congress accomplishes a lot less than the one over which Reed presided because party leaders no longer have the powers that Reed created.  Majority party cohesion has been undermined, and the leaders of the majority party are increasingly incapable of advancing necessary reforms.  As a result, the people increasingly look to the President.  Studying Reed’s vision for the House of Representatives reveals another possibility: with stronger parties, Congress can maintain its own authority, and accomplish the business of the people more efficiently, than it does today.  Reed and his rules illustrate a potential solution for the disappearing role of Congress in contemporary American politics.

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April 23: James G. Blaine (1830-1893) – House Speaker & Senate Member From Maine, Secretary Of State, Presidential Candidate – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

James G. Blaine was a politician from Maine who first served in the Maine House of Representatives and then moved to the federal stage, where he became Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, a United States Senator, Secretary of State and Republican nominee for President.  Nicknamed “the Magnetic Man,” Blaine was one of the leaders of the Republican Party during the late 19th Century and one of the great debaters.

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April 20: Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858) – Missouri House & Senate Member – Guest Essayist: Ben Phibbs

LISTEN ON SOUNDCLOUD: “For the President and the Party: The Loyal Career of Senator Thomas Hart Benton” “Now you…rascal, I am going to punish you. Defend yourself!”[1] The taunt ferociously barreled into the infant autumn air of Nashville, Tennessee, flying comfortably from the tongue of a notorious brawler with a slender, scarred frame that lamented […]

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April 19: Daniel Webster (1782-1852) – Secretary Of State, New Hampshire House & Senate Member, Known As “The Great Orator,” Part 2 – Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

In a speech in 1837, he issued a warning free citizens must never forget, “There are men, in all ages, who mean to exercise power usefully; but who mean to exercise it. They mean to govern well; but they mean to govern. They promise to be kind masters; but they mean to be masters.”

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April 18: Daniel Webster (1782-1852) – Secretary Of State, New Hampshire House & Senate Member, Known As “The Great Orator,” Part 1 – Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

Daniel Webster, alongside Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, was a member of the “Great Triumvirate,” that remarkable group of speakers whose grand and widely-circulated speeches enlivened debates in the Senate and electrified the American people. Webster, the “Great Orator,”

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April 17: John C. Calhoun (1782-1850) – Seventh U.S. Vice President, South Carolina House & Senate Member, Part 2 – Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

Calhoun’s approach to consent of the governed, as expressed through concurrent majorities of the whole and of its affected constituent minorities, presents a relevant model for peaceful resolution of fundamental political questions that well preserves both “Liberty and Union” in a large, diverse, and divided country.

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April 16: John C. Calhoun (1782-1850) – Seventh U.S. Vice President, South Carolina House & Senate Member, Part 1 – Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

For nearly the first half of the nineteenth century, three men dominated the debates over the great issues of the day. They were the “Great Triumvirate,” Henry Clay of Kentucky, Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, and John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. Continued tomorrow

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April 13: Henry Clay (1777-1852) – House Speaker, Whig Party Leader, Kentucky Senate Member – Guest Essayist: Sam Postell

…the first to understand that Congress was in need of leadership if it were to be understood as an important power of the government rather than a mere servant of the president. Although he was a man of action, his speeches bequeath a rich knowledge of constitutional theory that allow us to appreciate the importance of the rules and orders of the legislature.

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April 12: John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) – Sixth U.S. President, Massachusetts House & Senate Member – Guest Essayist: Brian Pawlowski

LISTEN ON SOUNDCLOUD: While John Quincy Adams was not an exact contemporary of the Founding Fathers he was, in more ways than one, their offspring. Indeed, his bond with the generation of 1776 was familial as well as philosophical. And his sense of duty to that generation, the project they set in motion, and the […]

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April 11: The Great Debates – Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

On June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy issued his Report to the American People on Civil Rights, calling on Congress to pass a civil rights bill to address discrimination and segregation against African Americans.

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April 10: Entry Into WWII And The America First Debate, Part 2 – Guest Essayist: James Legee

On December 10, 1941, the America First Committee dissolved. Shortly beforehand, on December 8 of 1941, Congress voted for war with Japan. The vote was nearly unanimous and the sole vote against war came not from a member of America First.

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April 9: The Great Debates – The Nineteenth Amendment – Guest Essayist: Cleta Mitchell

One hundred and thirty years after ratification of the United States Constitution, women were, at long last, granted full citizenship and voting rights in America. The Nineteenth Amendment is a piece of the struggle for freedom that had eluded half of America’s population for more than a century.

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April 5: Henry Cabot Lodge Senate Debate Of 1919 & The Treaty Of Versailles – Guest Essayist Tony Williams

Throughout the debate over the Treaty of Versailles and League of Nations, Senator Lodge stood firmly for the American Constitution and its principles. He did support world peace and hoped to avert another world war, but he would not sacrifice American principles in an attempt to achieve it. He sought to do what was right according to the Constitution.

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April 4: Stephen A. Douglas & Abraham Lincoln In Congressional Debate: The Compromise Of 1850, Kansas-Nebraska Act Of 1854 – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

Known as “the Little Giant,” Stephen A. Douglas was a politician from Illinois who designed the Kansas-Nebraska Act and served as a member of the House of Representatives and the Senate, and was the Democratic Party nominee for president against Abraham Lincoln in the election of 1860. Lincoln and Douglas also faced each other during the 1858 race for Senator from Illinois, and the two engaged in a series of famous debates on the question of slavery and the future of our nation. Named the Little Giant because he was small in stature, he was not little when it came to politics and his place in our history as a great debater.

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April 2: The Great Debates – Robert Hayne’s 1830 Senate Speech & Daniel Webster’s Reply, Part 2 – Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

Webster returned fire. In a speech equally aroused as Hayne’s, and laced with historical references, constitutional argument, and heavy doses of sarcasm, Webster rejected Hayne’s attacks and painted a picture of an optimistic nationalism that stood in stark contrast to Hayne’s defensiveness.

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March 30: The Great Debates – Robert Hayne’s 1830 Senate Speech & Daniel Webster’s Reply – Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

Over the course of approximately a week in late January, 1830, a debate occurred in the United States Senate that historians consider the greatest ever in that chamber. Before a gallery packed with listeners, under the animated gaze of Vice-President John C. Calhoun, Senators Robert Hayne of South Carolina and Daniel Webster of Massachusetts waged an oratorical battle.

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March 28: The Role Of Congress In Creation & Constitutionality Of The National Bank, Part 2 – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

The First Congress was deeply divided over policies at the very start of the new nation. The debates generally centered around the economic policies and financial plans of Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. The contention about the National Bank in particular generally revealed a sectional and increasing partisan divide between the Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians.

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March 27: The Role Of Congress In Creation & Constitutionality Of The National Bank – Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

The vote was the result of a political maneuver to accommodate a matter of much more immediate impact, the realization of Alexander Hamilton’s economic salvage blueprint for the new nation. That blueprint proved crucial to the country’s economic and political fortunes. At the same time, it opened fissures of sectional conflict, constitutional theory, and political partisanship that had remained below the surface, if barely, during the preceding decade.

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March 26: The Decision Of 1789: Congress, The President & Removal Of Presidential Appointees – Guest Essayists: David Alvis & Flagg Taylor

At stake in this struggle over removal power was more than the interior design of a particular department; this debate would shape the way in which the two elected branches of the federal government would relate to one another under the system of the separation of powers. For those who favored a significant role for Congress in the removal power, the concern was to at least check, if not entirely control the executive’s enforcement of law.

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March 23: Statesmanship & The Distinguished Oratory Of Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun – Guest Essayist: Brian Pawlowski

Taken together, the political debates of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John Calhoun guided American politics like no other group save the Founding generation. As Merrill D. Peterson put it, “their arrival on the political stage announced a new era of American statesmanship…

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March 22: Culture Of Debates On The House & Senate Floors – Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner

Patrick Henry cautioned, “The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.” In their respective chambers, the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives have developed unique ways to air differences and make sure information is shared. The Legislative Branch’s culture of debate hold’s power accountable and preserves our nation’s civic culture.

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March 21: Federalist 63: The Senate And Our National Character – Guest Essayist: Forrest Nabors

In crisis Americans are famous for forgetting their differences and pulling together, but the Senate was designed to be our natural rallying point. In the members of that body we were meant to see the best of our country, calmly reminding us of who we are as a people, and inspiring us by their example to follow the path of our duty.

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March 20: Federalist 62: The Structure And Role Of The Senate – Guest Essayist: Forrest Nabors

Their coolness, experience and wisdom would balance the passions, inexperience and hastiness in the other body. Thus, the planned role of the Senate was vital to enacting wholesome and necessary national legislation, was indispensable to the general government and placed the American republic in a likely position to gain an estimable reputation among the nations.

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March 19: Federalist 62 & 63: Senate Powers For Soundness, Order, Stability Of The Congress – Guest Essayist: Joseph M. Knippenberg

A second legislative chamber “doubles the security to the people by requiring the concurrence of two distinct bodies in schemes of usurpation or perfidy.” The more hoops that have to be jumped through, the more groups that have to be coordinated, the harder it is for men (and women) bent on tyranny to accomplish their aims.

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Happy Birthday, James Madison! March 16, 1751 – Federalist Papers 51 & 53 – How The American People Hold Congress Accountable – Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

Madison examines various suggested mechanisms by which government might be constrained and liberty preserved. Drawing on the Americans’ experience with the British government as well as their own state governments, he rejects all as insufficient. Thus, formal declarations in state constitutions of the legislative power being vested in the legislature, the executive in a chief officer, and the judicial in the courts, are “a mere demarcation on parchment of the constitutional limits of the several departments” and would not suffice to prevent dangerous concentration of power.

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March 15: Federalist 10: Political Stability And Good Governance – Guest Essayist: Richard Wagner

Despite the ensuing controversy, we should note that both proponents and opponents of the new Constitution agreed that the prime purpose of government was to secure individual liberty. They also recognized that intrusive government was the prime danger to liberty, even though it was also recognized that some government was necessary to preserve and protect the American system of liberty.

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March 14: James Madison: Guiding The Bill Of Rights Through The U.S. House Of Representatives – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

Although he enumerated several reasons for his opposition, Madison then gave his friend hope when he stated that most important reason in favor of a Bill of Rights was that, “The political truths declared in that solemn manner acquire by degrees the character of fundamental maxims of free Government, and as they become incorporated with the National sentiment, counteract the impulses of interest and passion.” Madison thought the liberties would become engrained in the American character.

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March 13: Bill Of Rights: Placing Limits On Congressional Governing – Part Three – Guest Essayist: Patrick Garry

Although the Antifederalist concern about limiting the power of the federal government provided the initial impetus for the Bill of Rights, the Bill does more than simply provide a restraint on government action. It seeks to preserve liberty by protecting particular areas traditionally considered essential to individual freedom and dignity.

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March 12: Bill Of Rights: Placing Limits On Congressional Governing – Part Two – Guest Essayist: Gary Porter

Even as early as 1825, Thomas Jefferson was able to observe:

“I see,… and with the deepest affliction, the rapid strides with which the federal branch of our government is advancing towards the usurpation of all the rights reserved to the States, and the consolidation in itself of all powers, foreign and domestic; and that, too, by constructions which, if legitimate, leave no limits to their power…”

Was the Bill of Rights necessary?

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March 9: Bill Of Rights: Placing Limits On Congressional Governing – Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer

It was not America’s victory over England in 1781 that was a revolutionary miracle—for following the surrender at Yorktown any one of a number of things could have gone (and in some cases did do) wrong in the creation of our new nation. No, it was the creation of our Constitution and the adoption of the first ten amendments as a “Bill of Rights” that was the true miracle—since both, taken together, were based on a premise that had been unheard-of until that point.

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March 8: Articles Of Confederation – What The Founders Thought Of The Articles Of Confederation And Why They Did Not Last – Guest Essayist: Patrick Garry

Although the Articles had demonstrated the need for a stronger national government, the primary threat to liberty was seen as emanating from such governments. Therefore, the preeminent debate of the time involved how to limit the new federal government so as to prevent it from having the power to commit the kind of abuses once committed by the British government. Liberty was to be protected by a system of limits on government power, not simply by the absence of government power.

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March 7: Articles of Confederation – Congress Wielded All Three Powers: Legislative, Judicial, Executive, Later Separated – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

On November 15, 1777, the Continental Congress approved what was this newly declared independent nation’s first constitution, the Articles of Confederation.  The Articles included a single governing body, the Continental Congress.   Requiring unanimous ratification by all thirteen of the British colonies, it took until March 1, 1781, when Maryland ratified the Articles, for them to become effective.  The Articles governed until 1789, when the United States Constitution replaced the Articles.

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March 5: The Declaration Of Independence And The United States Congress – Guest Essayist: Gary Porter

Each incoming Congress normally conducts a ceremonial reading of the Constitution in the first few days of the session. Some complain this is merely for show, that Congressmen and women then proceed to completely ignore their oaths to “support and defend the Constitution.” Perhaps there is some truth to this charge. But might we humbly suggest that before reading the Constitution, that Congress also read, out loud, the Declaration of Independence, and then take a moment (or several moments) to reflect on the “thought and spirit” of our government before proceeding with their appointed tasks?

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March 2: What A Republican Form Of Government Means & Why This Structure Mattered To America’s Constitution Framers – Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

Under Article IV, Section 4, of the Constitution, the United States shall guarantee to each state a republican form of government. That raises the question of what was understood not only by a “republican form” of government, but by the substance of republicanism.

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February 28: Legislative: Most Important Branch, Of The People, Whose Primary Role Is Lawmaking – Guest Essayist: James Legee

These are not minor implications. Congress has the most direct tie to the fount of power in America, the people. All laws, resolutions, chartered agencies, stem from the desires of the people. When congress fails to take the views into consideration, fails to refine them to compatibility with the constitution, with liberty, and with principles of justice, it has, as Webster notes, ceased to be a representative body.

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February 27: Since The First U.S. Congress In 1789: Why, When & How The People’s Branch Convenes – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

In the spring of 1789, several dozen representatives and senators from eleven states (North Carolina and Rhode Island had not yet ratified the Constitution) traveled to New York for the first session of the First Congress. Most fundamentally, they were assembling because the United States had a constitutional republican form of government based upon the consent of the governed.

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February 26: Senate History: Purpose Of The U.S. Senate, The “Cooling Factor” And “Sober Second Thought” – Guest Essayist: James Legee

The Senate was intended to be the upper house of America’s Congress, a long-serving chamber of sober debate.  Here, the passions of human nature, which history watched manifest into noble appeals to virtue and liberty as often as into the deplorable institution of slavery or the savagery of the French Revolution, were to be calmed and sober reason allowed to prevail.

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February 23: House History: Purpose Of The United States House of Representatives As The Immediate Will Of The People – Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner

When the U.S. House of Representatives meets, it draws upon this rich and deep history and set of precedents.  It remains true to its origins: larger, rowdier, fractious, governed by rules and votes, and highly sensitive and responsive to the popular will and issues of the moment.  This is in contrast to the slower pace, decorum, and informal agreements that characterize the Senate.

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February 22: Beginnings Of The United States Congress Part 2 – Guest Essayist: Marc Clauson

No institutional arrangement is perfect, as no individual is perfect.  The Founders valued design principles highly, but they also advocated for virtuous public officials.  However, they knew they could not guarantee virtue at all times.  Therefore, they took pains to design, in this case, a Congress that would give voice to the people while limiting the possible abuses of power in that Congress as well as in the other branches.

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February 21: Beginnings Of The United States Congress – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

As Representative James Madison reflected on the task of the First Congress, he stated, “We are in a wilderness without a single footstep to guide us.” Perhaps Madison was wrong for the representatives and senators had a few guides at their disposal. They had their experience in the state legislatures and the national Congress under the Articles of Confederation. In addition, they had their wisdom and prudence to pursue the public good in deliberative government. Most fundamentally, they had the new Constitution as the fundamental guide for all their actions.

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February 20: INTRODUCTION Part 2: The United States Congress Today – Guest Essayist: William Morrisey

The careful design of the United States federal government, as seen in our Constitution, has been admired and imitated throughout the world. Yet few Americans today think of their government as very much limited to matters of commerce, military defense, and constitutional law. Nor do we think of Congressmen as citizen-legislators, serving a few years in the nation’s capital and then returning home to the applause of grateful, armed, and vigilant fellow-citizens.

What has happened, since 1787?