Sneak Peak at our New Core Document Collections: Congress & Political Parties

BySarah Morgan Smith
On October 8, 2020

Parties, political power and partisans, oh my! As Americans look ahead to Election Day 2020, we at TAH invite you to look back to some key moments in the development of modern political parties using primary sources drawn from our Core Document Collections on the American Presidency, Congress, and Political Parties. Each of the three volumes in this set offers a chronological arrangement of carefully edited document excerpts, supported by introductions and study questions. Read together, they reveal the historical development of representative government in America.

James Madison, “A Candid State of Parties,” September 22, 1792

“A Candid State of Parties” is another essay written by Madison for the National Gazette. Here, Madison writes from what seems to be a clearly partisan point of view, declaring that the Federalists, “from natural temper, or from habits of life, are more partial to the opulent than to the other classes of society; and having debauched themselves into a persuasion that mankind are incapable of governing themselves, it follows with them, of course, that government can be carried on only by the pageantry of rank, the influence of money and emoluments, and the terror of military force.” A government of private interest in the place of public duty that depended upon bribes, privileges and selfishness was a false government. Clearly, Madison had in mind the British government and warned that Hamilton and the Federalists were taking the country in that direction.

Having accused the Federalists of preferring the interests of the few to the many and of failing to trust in the ruling wisdom of the people, Madison finds his way clear to applaud his own Democratic-Republican Party. In contrast to the perfidy of the Federalists, Madison frames the Democratic-Republican Party as a friend to the people and the true guardian of republican government. The alternative was regression into monarchy and a return to the type of British rule that the Americans had so valiantly cast off. Read the document in this sneak-peak at Political Parties: Core Documents — release date 10/20/20.

Joseph Cannon, Speech on Party Leadership in Congress, March 19, 1910

On St. Patrick’s Day, 1910, George Norris, with the assistance of 42 Progressive Republicans and 149 Democrats, revolted against Speaker of the House Joseph Cannon. The revolt came in the form of the Norris Resolution, which would essentially remove the Speaker of the House from the Rules Committee, revoke his or her privilege to assign members to committees, and expand the membership of the Rules Committee. Most of Cannon’s allies (many of whom were Irish) were celebrating the holiday when the Norris Resolution was introduced. To fend off the assault, Cannon and his present allies engaged with the “insurgents” in a point of order debate for 26 hours. Eventually, Cannon ruled that the resolution was out of order—which was overturned by Norris’s appeal to the full House. Although the Norris Resolution passed, Cannon had one last move: to challenge Norris’s supporters to oust him as Speaker and align with the Democrats to choose a new leader. In making this challenge, Cannon offered a constitutional argument for the existence of party leadership in Congress. Cannon’s Republican opponents sought to adjourn the House to avoid taking the difficult vote, but failed, and Cannon was vindicated when the vote to remove him as Speaker was rejected, 155–191—though nine Republicans voted to depose Cannon. Read the document in this sneak peak from Congress: Core Documents – release date of 10/20/20.

Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, On the Source of Executive Power, 1913, 1916

Although they were once close political allies, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft came to embody different wings of the Republican Party. Roosevelt was a Progressive, who had come to embrace reforms such as the direct primary, the ballot initiative, the referendum, and the recall. Taft was more of a traditionalist, who believed that party government, with its emphasis on loyalty to party leadership, was an indispensable part of democratic life. The direct primary would allow individual members of the party, rather than party leaders at a convention, to choose the party nominee.

In selections from Roosevelt’s An Autobiography of Theodore Roosevelt (1913) and Taft’s Our Chief Magistrate and His Powers (1916), we can see the difference in their understandings of presidential power. Roosevelt’s argument invites comparison with Jefferson (Letter to John B. Colvin) and Lincoln (Message to Congress in Special Session and Letter to Albert G. Hodges). Read the document in American Presidency: Core Documents.

For more documents to help illuminate the development of modern party-driven politics, order our three-volume set of Core Document Collections on the Congress, Political Parties, and the Presidency.

Until October 20, you can pre-order the set for $30 (regularly $38.97) and also receive The Editors’ Circle, a video panel from the collection editors discussing the evolution of all three institutions, democratization, the role of presidents and congressional party leaders, foreign policy, partisanship and more. 



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