Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Fighting for the Speakership

Fighting for the Speakership: The House and the Rise of Party Government

JEFFERY A. JENKINS
CHARLES STEWART
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1r2gnw
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Fighting for the Speakership
    Book Description:

    The Speaker of the House of Representatives is the most powerful partisan figure in the contemporary U.S. Congress. How this came to be, and how the majority party in the House has made control of the speakership a routine matter, is far from straightforward.Fighting for the Speakershipprovides a comprehensive history of how Speakers have been elected in the U.S. House since 1789, arguing that the organizational politics of these elections were critical to the construction of mass political parties in America and laid the groundwork for the role they play in setting the agenda of Congress today.

    Jeffery Jenkins and Charles Stewart show how the speakership began as a relatively weak office, and how votes for Speaker prior to the Civil War often favored regional interests over party loyalty. While struggle, contention, and deadlock over House organization were common in the antebellum era, such instability vanished with the outbreak of war, as the majority party became an "organizational cartel" capable of controlling with certainty the selection of the Speaker and other key House officers. This organizational cartel has survived Gilded Age partisan strife, Progressive Era challenge, and conservative coalition politics to guide speakership elections through the present day.Fighting for the Speakershipreveals how struggles over House organization prior to the Civil War were among the most consequential turning points in American political history.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4546-0
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. PREFACE
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  7. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    The U.S. House of Representatives is organized by whichever political party holds a majority of its seats. This fact has consequences. Controlling the organization of the House means that the majority party decides who will preside over its deliberations, who will set the policy agenda, and who will dominate the workhorses of the chamber: the standing committees. Organizing the House does not mean the majority party will win all battles, but it does give the party a leg up in virtually any question that gets considered by that body.

    There is nothing in the Constitution that rests the organization of...

  8. CHAPTER 2 The Evolving Roles and Responsibilities of House Officers in the Antebellum Era
    (pp. 25-55)

    Why would antebellum House members fight over who should wield the gavel? While to us the answer seems trivial, that is only because we live at a time and place in which the House has endowed the speakership with significant authority. Other legislative presiding officers, by comparison, lack such authority. For example, the U.S. Senate’s presiding officer in the absence of the vice president, the president pro tempore, is purely honorary and bestowed as a function of seniority. The Speaker of the British House of commons is also endowed with little authority; little of consequence rests on who holds the...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Organizational Politics under the Secret Ballot
    (pp. 56-75)

    As it became clear that officers like the Speaker and clerk could be politically valuable, conflict over organizing the House took on an increasingly partisan cast in the early Republic. Yet it would be a mistake to leap from the observation that House members viewed officer votes through the lens of nascent partisanship to an inference that this was part of an organized, formal manifestation of party activity, much less the first budding of an organizational cartel. At first, there were no formal party organizations at the national level, including the House.

    Organizational politics during the earliest years remain mysterious,...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Bringing the Selection of House Officers into the Open
    (pp. 76-108)

    In the two decades that preceded the Civil War, the conflicting impulses of region and party were often pitted against each other in congress, with House politics frequently degenerating into a free-for-all fight over the organization of the chamber.¹ Three of the chapters that follow focus on those fights, how they were resolved, and the consequences of these resolutions for American politics. But for a fight to happen, there needs to be an arena; for a public fight, there needs to be a public arena. The geographic arena of these antebellum speakership fights was the chamber of the House of...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Shoring Up Partisan Control: The Speakership Elections of 1839 and 1847
    (pp. 109-150)

    The House began to vote publicly to elect its Speakers and other House officers just as the country was entering a period of monumental, and ultimately cataclysmic, political change. Within a generation, 11 Southern states would secede from the Union and a bloody civil war would commence. In the late 1830s, however, the sectional tensions that would ultimately spell national doom were just coming to light—over the next decade, they would slowly but steadily ratchet up. While the viva voce voting procedure was introduced for partisan reasons, it quickly got caught up in those escalating sectional tensions.

    Viva voce...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Partisan Tumult on the Floor: The Speakership Elections of 1849 and 1855–1856
    (pp. 151-192)

    The patina of success that surrounded the caucus/public-ballot strategy of selecting House officers would be wiped away in 1849. The cross pressures between party and constituency that had been building throughout the decade, thanks to the growing importance of the slavery issue, could no longer be managed successfully within the existing structure of the interregional two-party system. The free-soil issue, set in motion by the Wilmot Proviso in the summer of 1846, exposed cracks in both the Democratic and Whig Parties, and placed more and more pressure on leaders to hold their regional blocs together. As we discussed in chapter...

  13. CHAPTER 7 The Speakership and the Rise of the Republican Party
    (pp. 193-240)

    The election of Nathaniel Banks as House Speaker in the 34th Congress after two months of wrangling and 133 ballots marked the rise of the Republicans as the primary opposition party to the Democrats. Although multiple issues characterized the opposition movement immediately after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska act in 1854, slavery extension dominated all others by late 1855; it dictated speakership balloting and allowed the Republicans to seize control of the House’s top position. But Banks’s election was simply the first Northern victory—organizing the House and building a lasting coalition, two crucial steps in the Republican Party’s development,...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Caucus Governance and the Emergence of the Organizational Cartel, 1861–1891
    (pp. 241-273)

    As the nation entered the Civil War, the antebellum pattern of protracted House speakership battles appeared poised to continue. Despite the secession of 11 Southern states, and the fact that they possessed a large House majority, the Republicans did not settle on a Speaker nominee prior to the convening of the 37th Congress (1861–63). Unlike many previous speakership contests, however, once balloting began, the Republican majority quickly coalesced; indeed, before the official first-ballot tally was even announced, a number of dissident Republicans switched their votes to Galusha Grow (Pa.), the party front-runner, so as to elect him and forego...

  15. CHAPTER 9 The Organizational Cartel Persists, 1891-2011
    (pp. 274-302)

    The three decades after the onset of the Civil War saw the party caucus take firm hold in settling the initial organizational decisions on the House floor that were so critical to subsequent partisan success. With the certainty that caucus organization brought, a true organizational cartel emerged. In time, partisan leaders turned their attention to expanding their institutional control. This led to the Republicans’ development of the procedural cartel, wherein agenda power in the chamber would be dominated by the majority party and minority rights would be greatly restricted. The two decades between 1890 and 1910 would serve as the...

  16. CHAPTER 10 Conclusion
    (pp. 303-322)

    We have covered more than 200 years of House organizational history in the last nine chapters. In this final chapter, we bring things full circle and return to key points initially raised in our introductory chapter. We focus first on the role that the party caucus has played in hastening a consistent House organization by the majority party. We follow by offering some thoughts about how the idea of an organizational cartel would translate into other legislative settings. Changing gears, we reflect on the role of Martin Van Buren in building the American party system, and how a fuller appreciation...

  17. APPENDIX 1 Summary of House Organization, First–112th Congresses (1789–2011)
    (pp. 324-331)
  18. APPENDIX 2 Election of House Speaker, First–112th Congresses
    (pp. 332-369)
  19. APPENDIX 3 Election of House Clerk, First–112th Congresses
    (pp. 370-390)
  20. APPENDIX 4 Election of House Printer, 15th–36th Congresses
    (pp. 391-397)
  21. APPENDIX 5 Summary of Democratic and Republican Caucus Nominations for Speaker, 38th–112th Congresses
    (pp. 398-402)
  22. APPENDIX 6 Democratic and Republican Caucus Nominations for Speaker, 38th–112th Congresses
    (pp. 403-420)
  23. REFERENCES
    (pp. 421-438)
  24. INDEX
    (pp. 439-476)
  25. Back Matter
    (pp. 477-480)