The United States Congress: The First 225 Years

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The week of April 1, 2014, will be celebrated as Congress Week, as sponsored by the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress.

SCPC is one of just over forty institutional members of this organization, which is dedicated to preserving material documenting the work of Congress and encouraging research in those holdings.

Many of the institutions are repositories holding the papers of members of Congress.  Some, like SCPC and the Russell Library at UGA, collect broadly.  Others, like the Dole Institute at KU and the Byrd Center at Shepherd University stress public programming on current events or issues such as leadership.    The National Archives’ Center for Legislative Archives is also a prominent member.

You can learn more about ACSC by visiting its web site:

In publicizing Congress Week, ACSC president Frank Mackaman, of the Dirksen Center, wrote:

The United States Congress is 225 years old this year and we think this is cause for celebration and reflection….We want to encourage a focus on Congress each year during the month of April, the month in 1789 when Congress first got down to the business of governing the United States under its new Constitution….

    While Congress is a co-equal branch of government, the action today seems to be embodied in the president, not Congress. We have President’s Day every year, we conduct grand inaugural events when presidents are sworn in, and the news tends to focus on the president as the one individual who should govern the nation. Yet when each new Congress convenes every two years, the public pays hardly a nod to the event.  So Congress Week is a device, a non-partisan reminder, that Congress bears co-equal responsibility for governing the nation. Its rich and colorful history needs more of the nation’s attention.

    In coming years we hope Congress Week will spark a closer examination of the First Branch of government, encourage schools to develop programs to highlight the work of Congress, and stimulate more scholarly research into Congress by a wide range of disciplines.

    Congress has governed the nation for 225 years, and we hope it will survive and thrive for centuries to come. It can only do so if the nation continues to understand and appreciate the Constitution of the United States and the meaning of representative democracy.  James Madison and other founders believed strongly that an informed citizenry was the best hope for good government. We hope Congress Week will contribute to an informed citizenry.

SCPC currently holds the papers of some twenty-five members of Congress serving primarily in the post-World War II era, including those of current members, Senator Lindsey Graham and Congressmen Mark Sanford and Joe Wilson.  Our sister institution, the South Caroliniana Library, holds the papers of a number of members who served before 1945.  We value these papers not only for their documentation of government but because they help document in a very personal manner the lives, hopes, and fears of the people of South Carolina and our country through the letters, emails and other messages they send to their representatives in government, hoping to sway the legislative process and make all of our lives better.

As Mackaman wrote, “the great experiment in representative democracy is still an ongoing process.”

So, please join us during this first week of April in celebrating Congress Week!

–Contributed by Herb Hartsook

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