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The American Congress
edited by Julian E. Zelizer

The American Congress


"This book represents an important contribution to our understanding of the inner workings of government. An all-star cast of historians has produced a series of thoughtful essays and vivid portraits — from Aaron Burr to Newt Gingrich. This volume promises to become the standard reference for scholars and students of the American Congress."

— STEVEN M. GILLON
resident historian, The History Channel

Congress is the seat of the government by the people, the place where interests are brokered, laws are established, and innovation is turned into concrete action. It is also where some of democracy's greatest virtues clash with its worst vices: idealism and compromise meet corruption and bitter partisanship. The American Congress unveils the rich and varied history of this singular institution.

Julian E. Zelizer has gathered together forty essays by renowned historians to capture the full drama, landmark legislation, and most memorable personalities of Congress. Organized around four major periods of congressional history, from the signing of the Constitution to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, this volume brings a fresh perspective to familiar watershed events: the Civil War, Watergate, the Vietnam War. It also gives a behind-the-scenes look at lesser-known legislation debated on the House and Senate floors, such as westward expansion and war power controls. Here are the stories behind the 1868 vote to impeach President Andrew Johnson; the rise of Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress and a leading advocate for pacifism; and the controversy surrounding James Eastland of Mississippi, who carried civil rights bills in his pockets so they could not come up for a vote. Sidebars further spotlight notables, including Huey Long, Sam Rayburn, and Tip O'Neill, bringing the sweeping history of our lawmaking bodies into sharp focus.

If you ever wondered how Congress worked in the past or what our elected officials do today, this book gives the engaging, often surprising, answers.



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Chapter 34

The Environment

The year is 1963, and the United States Senate, that most venerable of government institutions, has just gone Hollywood. Unfortunately, the Capitol does not come equipped with a marquee; otherwise, the Committee on Public Works might have announced the release of Troubled Waters, the first congressionally produced motion picture, with suitable fanfare.

The thirty-minute documentary, sponsored by the committee's new Subcommittee on Air and Water Pollution, surely poses no threat to Tinsel Town. The film cost about $200,000, just enough to hire a scriptwriter, borrow a camera crew from the Public Health Service's Communicable Disease Center, and rent an air force plane for location shoots. The renowned actor Henry Fonda endowed the project with star power by serving as the narrator . . .