Wednesday, October 22, 2014

When Republicans Rose Against Other Republicans

Thomas Westerman Wolf. Congressional Sea Change: Conflict and Organizational Accommodations in the House of Representatives, 1878-1912, Cambridge, Ma., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1981.

The organization of modern Congressional leadership resonates from changes resulting from the 1910 House leadership battles.  Congressional leadership structures were reshaped. The author it is uncertain the degree to which the 1910 conflict led to permanent changes in Congressional activities, The author observed Congressional operations have evolved from these 1910 and other past changes. He notes that various accomplishments within Congress that changed its operations between 1880 and 1920 helped shape future Congressional relations amongst its members that continued into the modern Congressional process.

Political conflict amongst Congressional members before 1880 was often determined primarily according to political party affiliation. Bipartisan cooperation began occurring more frequently in the 1880s than existed before, By the early 1920s, bipartisan cooperation increased even more. The 1920s found Congressional decision making as more complicated and decisions were achieved more pluralistically,

National political partisan leaders were losing political power during the 1920s. Congress moved towards more internal processes that were less dependent on which political party members belonged As all of politics became more pluralistic, so did Congress become more pluralistic.

Nelson Polsby noted some traditional 19th century Congressional procedures allowed it to move to greater independence, as evidenced by he 1910 conflicts involving Speaker Joseph Cannon,

Robert Peabody noted that House Speakers from 1890 to 1919 were powerful leaders who exercised strong political powers to gain Congressional actions as the Speakers desired,

There were several theories of Congressional behavior, Some external politics were a major force upon how Congress behaved. Internalists view Congress as operating according to how politics sets its norms and values. Ecologists view Congress as shaped by its environment and its past.

Polsby saw Congress as being developed from its own internal values and they adapting to changes as needed. Polsby viewed Congress as responding to internal values and external political demands. The larger number of House members, compared to the Senate, created complexities unique to the House. The House seniority system created automatic increases in power versus placing power into the personal wishes of leaders such as the Speaker. The Speaker influenced the system through recruiting candidates to run for position and by appointing members to committees according to the Speaker’s personal desires. A Speaker could displease members by appointing others instead of them and doing so by violating past seniority rules and traditions.

There were several changes, some of which were major, in Congressional traditions during 1890 to 1910. These led to member of Congress to achieve greater autonomy and to challenge the existing system as led by the Speaker. While some factors external to Congress influenced the revolt, the revolt against a Speaker was mostly due to internal matters amongst Congressional members.

Richard Fenno observes that changes in Congressional processes such as increased voting according to special interest influences as well as changes in the appropriations procedures, which began in 1885, led to creating the conditions that ultimately restricting the Speaker’s powers in 1910.

Joseph O, Jones noted that coalition building amongst members of Congress led to a new coalition that decreased the Speaker’s powers.

The author views the institutional theory as too vague to explain the 1910 Congressional revolt. The institutional theory is that norms and routines are what guides processes.

Samuel Huntington viewed an institutionalization process as creating stability in Congressional operations. This stability becomes the rational order unless dysfunction enters. Institutionalization makes an organization stable and valid. Polsby observed that the degrees of institutionalization of an organization does not indicate its value or how much power or strength it has.

Congress fits into the rational-legal organization as defined by Max Weber. Weber argued that increased complexities in organizations made them create measures to coordinate themselves Often this involved greater concentration of power.

The revolt against Speaker Cannon was not a random and erratic act. There were many small changes over time within Congress that created the conditions allowing Speaker Cannon to be successfully challenged.

Walter Dean Burnham views the political sysem as static and that Congress and other political institutions reflect the political environment. Burnham sees structural decay as likely occurring over time.

The conservative wing of the Republican Party dominated political power in the early 20th century, Political conflicts over power were mostly within and between separate groups of Republicans. Local interests increased in importance which diminished the importance of national interests.

Douglas Price observed there was a decline in House membership turnover in the early 20th century. Changes in election laws decreased the influence of political power leaders which let members remain in office longer without interference from such leaders. The seniority system lead to career politicians filling important Congressional positions.

When insurgent committee chairmen challenged Speaker Cannon’s authority. Cannon responded by removing them from the chairmanships and appointing his allies in their places. Price, Huntingdon, and Burnham observed that while there were changes in the political power, Congress remained rather insulted from these. The traditional Congressional processes remained. Members would become more individualistically ambitious in the early 20th century than they had before.

Burnham notes the 1896 elections found more House seats that were electorally more competitive in who could be elected. Thus, there were fewer members who did not need to worry as much about reelection.

David Truman observed that interest groups gained effectiveness upon Congress in the early 20th century.

The author believes internal changes within Congress in the early 20th century influenced it more than did external political environment changes. He finds an evolutionary or adaptive model explains how Congress then developed.

The various forces that faced members of Congress affected the decision making process of the House. Each House member had his own goals and political beliefs. Ecologists believe external forces were key. The systemic processes of Congressional organization minimized external forces and led members to be more apt to follow internal demands upon them.

The revolt in Congress diminished the Speakers power and shifted power towards more senior members. the seniority system became a check on the Speaker’s powers.

The increase in the powers of individual members of Congress, achieved at the expense of the Speaker’s powers, changed the social structure of Congress, New norms of behavior emerged. The rise of the seniority system encouraged members to remain in office to gain seniority. More career members of Congress resulted.

Conflict within the House in 1896 to 1920 emerged more from pluralistic disputes than from he previous more partisan disputes. Congress changed how it dealt with and resolved conflicts. It did so by allowing more consensus in policy decisions. The previous use of relying on political coalitions to resolve conflicts decreased. The decaying of national political power further reduced the use of political coalitions to resolve House conflicts. Increased pluralism resulted.

Conflict in Congress from 1878 to 1896 resulted from external and internal sources. The ability of external political powers to influence Congress helped determine how much Congress responded to the desires of these external sources. National political parties were mostly unified on most issues. These national ideologies influenced Congressional behavior.

Civil Service Reform reduced the influence of political party leaders. Congress was responding to public opinion hat favored these reforms. The political party leaders retained some strength as Civil Service reforms were weakened in order to retain the influence of political leaders. Political patronage had some public support, especially amongst the groups gaining from patronage.

Lingering issues from the Civil War made their way into Congressional actions and electoral politics. Tariff issues continued to split Congress and the public. Retaining the gold standard for currency was a major issue.

The 1880s found the Northeast and Midwest electing mostly Republicans to Congress and the South electing mostly Democrats to Congress. Democrats held more “safe seats”. Control of Congress was often determined on how well either party did among competitive seats in New York, Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana. From 1876 to 1896, both political parties nominated Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates from these four states. Republican members of Congress tended to form cohesive units. Democratic members tended to have ideological differences that often reflected regional difference on how issues were viewed.

The strong influence of ideology by party identification increased institutional goals while diminishing personal ideology and personal goals. Membership turnover was higher than in the previous three quarters of a century due to reelection defeats and voluntary retirements. Fewer members could create a career in Congress.

Some local political organizations deliberately rotated people serving in Congress. The Maine Republican Party, by contrast, encourage James Blaine, Thomas Reed Nelson Douglas and others o remain in office. The ecologist model serves well in observing how Congress then functioned as a strong reflection from external influences.

Partisanship decreased in the 1910s. Public opinion was less supportive of political party leaders, The percent of voters identifying with a political party diminished. THe rise of Progressive Era issues created more pluralism and less partisanship. Issues of government regulations were determined by pluralistic processes. Economic issues rose in importance. National political power diminished. Congress reflected more segmented and parochial demands and allowed members to pursue more personal goals. Public opinion increasingly distrusted centralized political power and national political parties.

Speaker Cannon blocked passage of some bills supported by President Theodore Roosevelt that were publicly popular. The press was critical of Cannon’s powers and his use of them. The national Democratic Party Platform called for the House to adopt new rules to reduce the Speaker’s powers.

Congressional elections became less competitive. Members could pay less attention to external demands. Members tended to serve more terms in Congress. Congressional conflicts were caused more by parochial interests and personal views.

Democrats in Congress between 1875 and 1895 were political divided. When Democratic majorities existed in Congress, more powers were given to sub-groups and to factionalized groups and to individual members. Decision making in he House was less centralized and ore dispersed. Woodrow Wilson described he House in the 1880s as a Government of Committees. Wilson also observed that the Speaker’s powers to appoint committee members gave the Speaker great power.

Tariff issues divided Congressional Democrats. Committee power was divided to appease both factions. In 1885, Congress moved some appropriations powers, on Military Affairs, Naval Affairs, Indian Affairs, and Foreign Affairs, from the Appropriations Committee to other committees Thus, House powers were more dispersed.

Members of Congress set their own rules. Members began looking more towards their own goals for reelection and their own career goals. House rules reflected this. The House from 1878 and 1921 created new process rules. Rep. Thomas Reed, a Republican, led a movement to streamline House procedures. Reed wanted majority rule and curbing the abilities of legislative minorities (which were then usually Democrats) to block bills. Politics dominated this debate as the Republican majority favored majority rule with the Democratic minority opposed it. Reed was elected Speaker. Reed’s rules proposals were enacted which increased the Speaker’s powers. The Speaker commanded great control over legislative procedures. Democrats regained the Congressional majority after the 1890 elections. The Speaker’s powers were then reduced which again resulted from fragmentation amongst the Democrats who wishes to allow their minority groups to have powers.

The author notes this shows Congress was able to enact wide fluctuations in its rules. Doing this became part of its acceptable norm. An acceptable pattern was created on changing rules to manage conflict. The revolt against Speaker Joseph Cannon partially resulted from this pattern,

The strong powers of Joseph Cannon became a national issue. Insurgent members of Congress were generally progressives while Cannon’s supporters were mostly conservatives. THe insurgents hoped President-elect William Howard Taft would side with them. Taft sided with Cannon and with party discipline. Many Democratic members sought an alliance with insurgent Republicans hoping they would ultimately agree to a Democratic Speaker, Vincent Murdock. Murdock declined to run. Cannon defeated insurgent Champ Clark 209 to 166. Cannon and his supporters were then surprised when the House next rejected continuing Cannon’s House rules. Champ Clark proposed new rules limiting the Speaker to appointing only five sanding committees (Ways and Means, Printing, Mileage, Enrolled Bills, and Accounts) and removing the Speaker as a member of the Rules Committee, whose size was increased. This was easily defeated. A Democrat, John J. Fitzgerald, offered a compromise that continued the Speaker’s appointment powers and kept he Rules Committee controlling the legislative process. This passed 211 to 173, Cannon and Taft never reached an agreement with the insurgents. In March, 1910, insurgents successfully passed a rules change increasing the Rules Committee from six to ten members and removing the Speaker as a member. This passed. Cannon remained as Speaker even as insurgents won more rules changes limited Cannon’s powers.

These rules changes reflected greater public participation in politics and increased pluralism existing then, Political party leaders were losing their abilities to half those who deviated from party goals. House members became more individualistic in interests and goals Voters approved by electing more politically independent members of Congress.

After the revolt against Cannon, the House sought new ways to manage conflict and reach consensus. When Democrats gained control of the House following the 1912 elections, they further distributed powers from the Speaker to other leaders. The position of Floor Leader was created. The first Floor Leader, Oscar Underwood, became the dominant power in the House as he also served as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and as Chairman of the Committee on Committees, Democrats met in caucus, The caucus consensus helped guide the legislative process.

The author notes the House can adapt to new needs, Whereas factionalism led to changes in House rules in the 19th century, particularism was a driving force in the 20th century, Congress created a means to handle conflict that fit its needs.


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