The men who gathered in Washington in December 1865 as members of the Thirty-ninth Congress were faced with the need to make decisions which were to be as important as any in the history of the United States, but the historian who seeks to understand them is hampered at the outset by the habit of denigration into which Americans fall when they deal with politicians. As Lord Bryce observed, a few years after Reconstruction, they ‘are fond of running down Congressmen. The cultivated New Englanders and New Yorkers do this out of intellectual fastidiousness, and in order to support the role which they unconsciously fall into when talking to Europeans. The rougher Western men do it because they would not have congressmen seem to be in any way better than themselves, since that would be opposed to Republican equality’.1 Congress had never had the opportunity given to representative assemblies in monarchical countries of winning repute by opposition to arbitrary government, and congressmen of this period, who saw themselves as playing this part in opposition to presidential usurpation, had no strong traditions to exploit. Twentieth-century Americans have become accustomed to the strong Presidency with its claim to represent the people against the factiousness and local interests of Congress, and view with suspicion the claim of Reconstruction majorities to represent the will of the people against an obstructive President.
KeywordsClay Migration Dust Depression Steam
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