"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."
James Madison, Federalist No. 51
Amid the turbulent swirl of foreign intrigue, external and internal threats to the young nation’s existence, and the domestic partisan wrangling of the 1790s, the United States Congress solidified its role as the national legislature. The ten essays in The House and Senate in the 1790s demonstrate the mechanisms by which this bicameral legislature developed its institutional identity. The first essay sets the scene for the institutional development of Congress by examining its constitutional origins and the efforts of the Founders to empower the new national legislature. The five following essays focus on two related mechanisms—petitioning and lobbying—by which citizens and private interests communicated with national lawmakers.
Although scholars tend to see lobbying as a later nineteenth-century development, the papers presented here clearly demonstrate the existence of lobbyists and lobbying in the 1790s. The final four papers examine other aspects of the institutional development of the House and the Senate, including the evolution of political parties and congressional leadership.
The essays in this collection, the third volume in the series Perspectives on the History of Congress, 1789-1801, originated in a series of conferences held by the United States Capitol Historical Society from 1994 to 2001.
Kenneth R. Bowling is coeditor of The Documentary History of the First Federal Congress, 1789–1791, and the author of The Creation of Washington, D.C.: The Idea and Location of the American Capital.
Donald R. Kennon is the former chief historian and vice president of the United States Capitol Historical Society. He is editor of the Ohio University Press series Perspectives on the History of Congress, 1789–1801.
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Gibbons v. Ogden, Law, and Society in the Early Republic examines a landmark decision in American jurisprudence, the first Supreme Court case to deal with the thorny legal issue of interstate commerce. Decided in 1824, Gibbons v. Ogden arose out of litigation between owners of rival steamboat lines over passenger and freight routes between the neighboring states of New York and New Jersey.
On March 4, 1789, New York City's church bells pealed, cannons fired, and flags snapped in the wind to celebrate the date set for the opening of the First Federal Congress. In many ways the establishment of Congress marked the culmination of the American Revolution as the ship of state was launched from the foundation of the legislative system outlined in Article I of the Constitution.
Few images of early America were more striking, and jarring, than that of slaves in the capital city of the world’s most important free republic. Black slaves served and sustained the legislators, bureaucrats, jurists, cabinet officials, military leaders, and even the presidents who lived and worked there.
Scholars today take for granted the existence of a “wall of separation” dividing the three branches of the federal government. Neither Separate nor Equal: Congress in the 1790s demonstrates that such lines of separation among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, however, were neither so clearly delineated nor observed in the first decade of the federal government's history.