A Short Legal History of the Second Amendment and Gun Control in America

With the recent shooting at Parkland High School and retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens advocating the repeal of the Second Amendment, I thought as I always do that having some history on the matter would be helpful! Here’s a timeline of the history of gun law in the United States, and the amount of actual case history for such a controversial issue is shockingly shallow, with the first case directly addressing the amendment occurring 87 years after the ratification of the Constitution.

1689 – The Bill of Rights of England is adopted, with many of its provisions sounding terribly familiar. One of them is, “Protestants may have arms for their defense suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law” (English Bill of Rights). The Second Amendment would partly be adopted on the basis of this English right.

1789 – The Constitution is ratified. The precise text of the Second Amendment: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” (US Const., amend. II). The meaning of these words continue to be debated back and forth, particularly over the definition of a militia and whether the right applies to just people in the militia, or to anyone who is capable of being in the militia.

1857 – In the infamous Dred Scott vs. Sandford, the Supreme Court’s majority decision noted that if blacks were to be regarded as citizens “It would give to persons of the negro race, who were recognised as citizens in any one State of the Union, the right…to keep and carry arms wherever they went” (Dred Scott v. Sandford). This implies that it was commonly understood that the rights of individuals were protected to keep and bear arms.

1876 – The first major case regarding the Second Amendment is United States v. Cruikshank, which holds that “The right to bear arms is not granted by the Constitution; neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence. The Second Amendment means no more than that it shall not be infringed by Congress, and has no other effect than to restrict the powers of the National Government” (United States v. Cruikshank). If this decision is a correct reading of the Second Amendment, it would mean that the McDonald decision of 2010 is incorrect. It should also be noted that this decision was following in the ideological footsteps of the Slaughter-House Cases (1873), which eviscerated the 14th Amendment’s privileges and immunities clause and is frequently regarded as among the worst Supreme Court decisions among legal scholars (Schwartz, 1997).

1934 – Congress passes and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs into law the National Firearms Act, which imposed a prohibitive tax on sawed-off shotguns and machine guns. These were not regarded as weapons used by common, law-abiding citizens for their defense.

1939 – The aforementioned law is challenged in United States v. Miller, but the Supreme Court upholds it unanimously, finding that only weapons that had application for military combat could be protected under the Second Amendment.

1968 – Reacting to the JFK, MLK, and RFK assassinations, Congress passes the Gun Control Act. This law banned mail orders of rifles and shotguns as well as prohibited most felons and certain other prohibited people like the mentally incompetent from purchasing guns.

1986 – After numerous complaints from the NRA and holders of federal firearms licenses over the allegedly overbearing enforcement of regulations under the Gun Control Act of 1968, Congress responds by passing the Firearm Owners Protection Act, which rolls back some of the provisions of the 1968 law. Particularly important was the provision that ATF inspections can only occur once a year, except in cases in which the subject has had multiple record-keeping violations on an inspection, in which a follow-up is permitted. The bill also notably includes a provision known as the Hughes Amendment, which bans civilian ownership of fully automatic weapons manufactured after 1986. Weapons manufactured before were registered, with its owners paying high fees for ownership permits.

1994 – Support builds up for a new gun control law, the Brady Bill, under the belief that had John Hinckley Jr. been subjected to background checks, he would not have been able to obtain the gun he used in his assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan and the paralyzing of Press Secretary James Brady. The Brady Bill also contained a 10-year ban on “assault weapons”, or semiautomatic rifles.

1997 – The Supreme Court strikes down certain provisions of the Brady Bill on Tenth Amendment grounds in Printz v. United States, but finds the overall statute constitutional. The case has no great implications for the meaning of the Second Amendment.

2004 – Congress allows the assault weapons ban to expire.

2008 – In District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court holds that the protection of individual firearm ownership can apply outside of the militia context. This is a 5-4 decision.

2010 – In McDonald v. Chicago, also a 5-4 decision, partially overrules Cruikshank, using the Incorporation Doctrine on the Second Amendment. Also notably, the plaintiffs in this case called for the court to overturn the Slaughter-House Cases, permitting the application of the Fourteenth Amendment for all amendments on the states, meaning guarantees for other rights on a state level would become more absolute.


Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, 107 Stat. 1536 (1993).

District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008).

Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393 (1857).

English Bill of Rights. Yale University.

Retrieved from http://avalon.law.yale.edu/17th_century/england.asp

Firearm Owners Protection Act, 100 Stat. 449 (1986).

Gun Control Act of 1968, 82 Stat. 1213-2 (1968).

McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 742 (2010).

National Firearms Act, 48 Stat. 1236 (1934).

Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898 (1997).

Schwartz, B. (1997). A book of legal lists: The best and worst in American law, with 150 court and judge trivia questions. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

US Const., amend. II.

United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1876).

United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939).







Strom Thurmond vs. Jesse Helms: A Contrast on Race

Perhaps the two most notable segregationists to switch parties were Strom Thurmond (1902-2003) and Jesse Helms (1921-2008). Yet, both men took different tactics on how to address social change and managed to have successful political careers, both retiring from the Senate in 2003.

Senator Thurmond of South Carolina had multiple reputations: as governor he had actively opposed lynchings and worked to further education for blacks but he had also run for president on the staunchly segregationist Dixiecrat ticket and had conducted a 24-hour one-man filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1957, a record that stands to this day. His switch from Democrat to Republican in 1964 had a tremendous symbolic impact on black views of the Party of Lincoln. Perhaps this was also a survival move on Thurmond’s part, as his likelihood of surviving a Democratic primary once blacks were able to vote was dubious. This was an example among many as to how adaptable Thurmond was as a politician. Another example was his hiring of a black staffer in 1971, the first Southern senator to do so, as was his reversal on opposition to the Voting Rights Act in 1982 and his vote for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in 1983. Thurmond’s overall conservatism remained consistent until his retirement in 2003, with adjustments made as necessary based on the composition of the electorate.

Unlike his colleague Strom Thurmond, who had tempered his voting record on racial issues, Jesse Helms decided to remain hardcore. A former segregationist radio host, he had switched to the GOP in 1970 and was elected to the Senate in 1972. With exceedingly few exceptions, Helms voted staunchly conservative and like Thurmond in the 1960s, he became an icon for the right in the 1980s and 1990s. He consistently opposed civil rights proposals and unlike most opponents of the MLK holiday, he took it upon himself to attack King’s character. This guaranteed that his elections would always be close. He also attracted controversy for his “white hands” campaign ad in 1990, which condemned affirmative action and was considered by liberals to be racist. He was also one of only three senators to vote against the 1988 Fair Housing Act and one of only five to vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Thurmond had voted for both.

Thurmond was a pragmatist who adapted to the racial makeup of the electorate while Helms was a principled absolutist who although kept quiet on his segregationist past, never made a clear break from it, and denied that he was a racist in his autobiography. Yet, both men managed to have long, undefeated careers in the Senate and both managed to be highly influential. Thurmond was instrumental to Nixon winning South Carolina in the 1968 presidential election and Helms made his mark as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the 1990s.


Clymer, A. (27 June 2003). Strom Thurmond, Foe of Integration, Dies at 100”. The New York Times.

Retrieved from https://mobile.nytimes.com/2003/06/27/us/strom-thurmond-foe-of-integration-dies-at-100.html?referer=https://www.google.com/

Holmes, S.A. (5 July 2008). “Jesse Helms Dies At 86; Conservative Force in the Senate”. The New York Times.

Retrieved from https://mobile.nytimes.com/2008/07/05/us/politics/00helms.html

One Man Diplomacy: Congressman George Hansen Tries to End the Iran Hostage Crisis

In 1979, America was a chastened nation on foreign policy. Congress had chosen to lose South Vietnam in 1975 and they were giving away the Panama Canal. Worse yet, Iranian students had stormed the American embassy in Tehran, taking its personnel hostage. Who aside from President Carter is to step up in such dreary times? Congressman George Hansen of Idaho.

First elected to Idaho’s 2nd Congressional District in 1964 as one of the few Republicans to topple a Democratic incumbent that year, George Hansen (1930-2014) quickly became a voice for limited government conservatism. An imposing figure at 6’6″, he opposed the Great Society through and through and was one of a handful of Northern Republicans to oppose the Voting Rights Act.


Although temporarily out of the legislative branch after a failed Senate bid in 1968, he returned in the 1974 election after defeating moderate Republican incumbent Orval Hansen in the primary and Democrat Max Hanson in the general election. This time around, he gained much greater attention as a staunch critic of the IRS, writing a book titled To Harass Our People: The I.R.S. and Government Abuse of Power, in which he compared the agency to the Gestapo. Hansen also was a critic of environmental policies especially as they pertained to western lands and of the Panama Canal Treaty. He also gained notoriety for his legal troubles over financial disclosure (which would lead to his defeat in the 1984 election) and for a 1992 conviction for swindling two Idaho banks and 200 people out of $30 million in an investment scheme. His most notable act, however, would come in response to the Iran Hostage Crisis.

Hansen took it upon himself to fly to Tehran to conduct his own negotiations without consulting US officials or Congressional leaders. This wasn’t his first time at this sort of adventure: in 1977 he had flown to Bolivia in an unsuccessful attempt to secure the release of 40 Americans arrested on drug charges, and in the summer of 1979 he flew to Nicaragua to provide supplies for the soon to be ousted dictator Anastasio Somoza. Although President Carter thought nothing good of the effort, he managed to secure several meetings, which US officials had at that point been unable to do. Hansen also was permitted to meet with the hostages. The reaction to this trip by many political observers and particularly Democratic politicians was negative, regarding it to be grandstanding and potentially dangerous. However, he had some supporters, like Rep. Bob Dornan (R-Calif.), who regarded him as a “hero” for his efforts (Ryan, 1979). Hansen even tried to negotiate an end to the crisis himself, making a first offer for a Congressional investigation into the alleged crimes of the Shah in exchange for release of the hostages, terms that were rejected by the Ayatollah himself. His second offer was practically a joke: exchange leading Shah backers David Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger for the hostages. Hansen also gained some criticism for some of his public statements in regards to the Iranian perspective and dismissed the militant statements of the Ayatollah towards the US as mere “rhetoric” (Ryan, 1979). History tells us of course that Hansen did not succeed in releasing the hostages, as they were freed at the end of Carter’s term after the signing of the Algiers Accords.

All in all, Hansen’s effort was a quixotic yet ultimately harmless bid to free the American hostages, as it neither aided nor damaged US efforts to this end. Perhaps his effort’s best effect was in its symbolism: a lone hero seeking to save the townsfolk from formidable foes. The truth is, of course, that international politics are substantially more complex.


Ryan, M. (10 December 1979). “Idaho Rep. George Hansen’s One Man Mission to Iran Leaves Official Washington Fuming”. People.

Retrieved from http://people.com/archive/idaho-rep-george-hansens-one-man-mission-to-iran-leaves-official-washington-fuming-vol-12-no-24/

Vitello, P. (20 August 2014). “George Hansen, Congressman and Convicted Swindler, Dies at 83”. The New York Times.


The Socialists in Congress…Literally!

In 2016, Bernie Sanders brought the concept of “democratic socialism” to national attention in his run for the Democratic nomination for president. As an admitted socialist, he has convinced a significant number of Democrats that socialism is good. Sanders himself, however, is not a member of the “Socialist Party”, but there were two members of Congress who were: Victor Berger of Wisconsin and Meyer London of New York.

Victor Berger (1860-1929) had been a founder of the party with its notable presidential candidate, Eugene V. Debs. In 1910, he challenged incumbent Republican William Stafford of Milwaukee for his seat and won.


Berger was thought of by many in Congress as something of a quirky figure, putting forth proposals for government ownership of railroads, radio, and telegraphs. He also called not for the direct election of Senators, but for the abolition of the Senate itself, making Congress a unicameral legislature. He also staunchly advocated for old-age pensions, which would ultimately become reality in the form of Social Security (Stevens). In 1912, he lost reelection to Stafford, but Berger wasn’t quitting. In 1918, he would defeat him for reelection, but since the U.S. had entered World War I and Berger had engaged in anti-war speech, he was not seated by Congress while being prosecuted by the Wilson Administration. Although convicted, Berger’s conviction would be overturned by the Supreme Court and he was free to run for Congress. In 1922, he once again unseated Stafford. On his return, he opposed income tax cuts, opposed Coolidge Administration debt resettlement bills with war debtor nations, supported McNary-Haugen farm relief legislation, and opposed federal flood control legislation. In 1928, the Hoover landslide proved too much for Berger to weather, and he was unseated by Stafford. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t have an opportunity to run for Congress again as he sustained a fractured skull as a result of a streetcar accident, and died of complications of his injuries weeks later.

New York City’s Meyer London (1871-1926) first ran for Congress in 1914 against Democrat Henry M. Goldfogle, who was a staunch Tammany Hall man, and won.


While backing President Wilson’s progressive agenda, he was staunchly anti-war, and voted against American involvement in World War I as well as the Espionage and Sedition Acts. However, he also supported the war effort, which was condemned by his socialist base. Ultimately, he was being attacked from both sides on the war question. He was not backing it enough, or he was backing it too much. As London himself stated, “I wonder whether I am to be punished for having had the courage to vote against the war or for standing by my country’s decision when it chose war” (Simkin, 2014). Ultimately it was his opposition to these measures that proved too much for his constituents, who voted him out in favor of Goldfogle in 1918. However, once war had come to an end, the constituents of New York’s 12th district saw fit to send him back in 1920. On his return, London opposed the Harding Administration’s economic agenda, which included tax cuts and tariff rate hikes. In 1922, he faced a strong challenger in Tammany Hall Democrat Samuel Dickstein, and he was defeated. London would never return to Congress, being accidentally struck by a motorist in 1926, dying in the hospital that evening. A popular figure, his funeral was attended by over half a million New Yorkers.


Representative Victor Berger of Wisconsin, the First Socialist Member of Congress. History, Art & Archives, United States House of Representatives.

Retrieved from http://history.house.gov/Historical-Highlights/1851-1900/Representative-Victor-Berger-of-Wisconsin,-the-first-Socialist-Member-of-Congress/

Simkin, J. (2014). Meyer London. Spartacus Educational.

Retrieved from http://spartacus-educational.com/Meyer_London.htm

Stevens, M.E. Victor Berger. Encyclopedia of Milwaukee.

Retrieved from https://emke.uwm.edu/entry/victor-l-berger/



The “Second Coming of Christ” Goes to Congress

Since I will be on vacation for a week yet want to meet my standard of two cited articles per week, I will post both of them.

Did you know that the second coming of Christ already occurred and that he served a term in Congress? Don’t believe me? Good on you, because this blasphemy is fake news. However, there was a man who believed himself to be the second coming of Christ and served in Congress. Manuel Herrick (1876-1952) lived an odyssey as strange as the man himself. Raised in Kansas and Ohio by simplistic and religious parents who named him Immanuel, they reached the conclusion that their son was literally the second coming of Christ, and treated him so. This gave the young Herrick grand ambitions, such as attempting to rob a train at the age of 16 shortly after a doctor pronounced him “insane”. This episode resulted the first of numerous short stints in asylums throughout his life. After his release, he would preach the gospel and engage in agricultural pursuits in Oklahoma. He also regularly filed bogus lawsuits and ran for office because he liked to see his name in the newspaper.


In 1920, Herrick decided to run for Congress for the 8th Congressional District for the second time, the first time in 1918 he had only received 56 votes. The incumbent was Dick Morgan, a respected and popular Republican. However, fortune smiled on Herrick. Morgan unexpectedly died on the last day of filing for the primary. With no time for Republicans to recruit another candidate, Herrick won the nomination unopposed because he was the only person crazy enough to challenge Morgan. In a saner world, this would have constituted an easy Democratic pickup but there were two factors at play. First, Oklahoma’s 8th was the most Republican district in the state, and second, 1920 was a spectacularly bad year for Democrats. That year Republicans would win a supermajority in the House, a feat they have not pulled off since. The local Republican organization did their best to make Herrick presentable as a candidate. Although the local GOP had hoped that Congress would not seat Herrick, his eccentricities weren’t that out of place there.

Herrick gained the moniker “Okie Jesus Congressman” while in office and was aware of his own reputation, stating “I may be a nut, but I’m a tough nut to crack” (Baird & Goble, 184). While he had a very able secretary in journalist Harry Gilstrap who defended him as best he could and worked diligently on constituent service, his eccentricities and his immense gaps in knowledge of government prevented him from playing an effective role in Congress. However, it was possible for him to be right on target. Herrick saw Japan as a future threat and urged a stronger naval fleet on the Pacific Ocean, citing the Japanese sneak attack on Port Arthur in 1904 that kicked off the Russo-Japanese War. Yet, his loony side was on full display when he organized a beauty pageant, with the winner to win the prize of a wealthy man’s hand in marriage. He claimed this was part of his “research” on legislation he was proposing to ban beauty pageants on the grounds they lured young women from the home. In 1922, he attempted with a pilot to fly a plane as a part of his reelection campaign, but it crashed in Arkansas. Both Herrick and the pilot survived with only minor injuries. However, he didn’t survive renomination, losing to Judge Milton Garber later that year.

The next thirty years would not be kind to Herrick. He was sometimes homeless and in 1925, he was arrested for distilling moonshine but claimed he was an IRS agent on an undercover mission. He moved to California in 1933, where he continued his habits of filing bogus lawsuits and running for office but to no avail. In 1950, Herrick was subjected to a sanity hearing, in which a doctor who examined him testified that he exhibited symptoms of psychosis and senility. He tragically froze to death in a blizzard in the Sierras on January 11, 1952, while trekking to his mining claim outside of Quincy. Herrick is one of numerous examples that prove that anyone can be elected to Congress and that life doesn’t always go according to plan!


Baird, W.D. & Goble, D. (2008). Oklahoma: A History. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.

Brown, P. (9 October 2007). “‘Insane’ Oklahoman ends up in Congress.” Enid News & Eagle.

Retrieved from http://www.enidnews.com/opinion/insane-oklahoman-ends-up-in-congress/article_21f958d4-193c-5b22-b6d1-29dd5908f8cf.html

Hanneman, C.G. “Herrick, Manuel.” Oklahoma Historical Society.

Retrieved from http://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=HE018

The “Liberal” and “Moderate” GOP of the Sixties Supported Constitutional Amendments on School Prayer, Legislative Reapportionment

In this era of Trump, many liberals have looked back mournfully at the bygone Republican Party, the one that former Vice President Joe Biden alluded to back when he said it wasn’t “your father’s Republican Party” (Leven, 2012). This is by their understanding the party that was more “liberal” and “moderate”. While it is true that the 1960s GOP was more ideologically diverse, it is also true that its senators supported two constitutional amendments that are pretty much dead issues today and would be regarded as highly reactionary if they were brought up again.

The Warren Court was staunchly activist court, and the justices employed their activism on the subjects of civil rights, state legislative apportionment, school prayer, and on the rights of criminal defendants. These decisions were quite controversial in their times, and subsequent courts would roll back to a certain extent some of the decisions, particularly on criminal defendants. The GOP of the time was quite critical of the Warren Court, with the most extreme of conservatives going as far as calling for the impeachment of Chief Justice Earl Warren. The criticism of these court decisions would eventually translate into legislative action, with the central character behind these efforts being Minority Leader Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.).


Dirksen is probably best known today for the instrumental role he played in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 through the Senate, but he also disagreed with many Warren Court rulings. In 1966, he spearheaded the charge for two constitutional amendments to overturn or modify Warren Court decisions. The first was the legislative reapportionment amendment, which its liberal Democratic opponents referred to as the “rotten borough amendment”. If ratified, this amendment would have allowed states to apportion one of the houses of their legislatures based on population along with other factors, thus enabling states to create legislative districts that didn’t fall under the “one man, one vote” standard. Dirksen was motivated by a fear in his home state of giving more political power to heavily Democratic Chicago, which under Mayor Daley’s machine had gained a notorious reputation for corruption. The second was the school prayer amendment, which if ratified, would have permitted voluntary prayer in public schools. Dirksen justified this amendment thusly:

Imagine the Chicago Bears football team, made up of green, inexperienced, unpracticed and unrehearsed players, undertaking a game against the Cleveland Browns. It would be unthinkable because they have not been disciplined by practice. . . . Mr. President, the soul needs practice, too. It needs rehearsal. (Kenworthy, 1969)

Although both amendments failed to clear the constitutionally required 2/3’s vote, the GOP vote on these measures is notable. For the reapportionment amendment, it was 29-3. Only Senators J. Caleb Boggs of Delaware (who would lose his bid for a third term in 1972 to Joe Biden), Clifford Case of New Jersey, and Jacob Javits of New York objected. For the school prayer amendment, it was 27-3. This time it was Minority Whip Thomas Kuchel of California along with Case and Javits who stood opposed. Of all the GOP Senators, only four objected to either of these amendments, with only the staunchly liberal Case and Javits objecting to both. A few other observations about these votes:

1. There were more moderate-to-liberal GOP members of the Senate than these four, meaning that even significant numbers of moderates of the time such as John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky, Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, and Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania were supporting these anti-Warren Court amendments.

2. This 90% vote in favor of a school prayer amendment notably was before the “religious right” is alleged in popular perception to have gained control over the GOP.

3. The vote on legislative reapportionment occurred during the same session of Congress in which the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed, with a Senate GOP vote of 30-2. The GOP therefore was almost as unified in opposition to the “one man, one vote” standard as they were in support of a federal solution to the deprivation of the vote for Southern blacks.

Ultimately, the push for revising the Constitution on legislative apportionment was a dead letter after Dirksen’s death in 1969 and the school prayer amendment continued to be pushed by the GOP well into the 1990s. While the left looking back at the Republican Party of the sixties with mourning has some justifications from their point of view, this carries some limitations that they don’t know or forget about, particularly Dirksen’s anti-Warren Court crusades.



Kenworthy, E.W. (8 September 1969). Dirksen Dead in Capital at 73. The New York Times.

Retrieved from http://events.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/0104.html

Leven, R. (1 April 2012). Biden to voters: ‘This isn’t your father’s Republican Party’. The Hill.

Retrieved from http://thehill.com/video/administration/219381-biden-this-isnt-your-fathers-republican-party

To Pass S. 1564, The Voting Rights Act of 1965. Govtrack.

Retrieved from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/89-1965/s78

To Pass S.J. Res. 103, A Proposed Constitutional Amendment Permitting One House of a Bicameral Legislature to be Apportioned on the Basis of Population, Geography, and Political Subdivisions. Govtrack.

Retrieved from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/89-1966/s289

To Pass S.J. Res. 144, A Resolution Proposing a Constitutional Amendment Permitting School Prayers. Govtrack.

Retrieved from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/89-1966/s451


An Informational Chart I

This post you may consider a “quick thought”, but it is more of an informational posting. To understand political history of the United States, I think it is valuable to know where the power was during which eras. The chart I am posting shows the breakdown of Democrat and Republican control of the legislative and executive branches since 1857. It is particularly stunning to examine the period of 1933-1995: The Democrats controlled the House for all but four years, and the Senate for all but ten years. The ideological breakdowns of the Congresses are a bit more complex than party affiliations suggest, but the Republican Party for quite the time was an underdog. The opposite situation exists in the House today, with Republicans controlling the chamber for all but four years since 1995.

* – The Senate was evenly split between Republicans and Democrats until June 6, 2001, when Sen. Jim Jeffords (R-Vt.) switched affiliation to Independent and caucused with the Democrats, giving them the majority until the end of term. The majority from January 3-June 6 thus hinged on the tie-breaking vote of the Vice President. Thus, Democrats held control for the majority of the session.

Congress House Senate  Years President
35 DEM DEM 1857-59 Buchanan (DEM)
36 GOP DEM 1859-61 Buchanan (DEM)
37 GOP GOP 1861-63 Lincoln (GOP)
38 GOP GOP 1863-65 Lincoln (GOP)
39 GOP GOP 1865-67 Lincoln/Johnson (UNION)
40 GOP GOP 1867-69 Johnson (DEM)
41 GOP GOP 1869-71 Grant (GOP)
42 GOP GOP 1871-73 Grant (GOP)
43 GOP GOP 1873-75 Grant (GOP)
44 DEM GOP 1875-77 Grant (GOP)
45 DEM GOP 1877-79 Hayes (GOP)
46 DEM DEM 1879-81 Hayes (GOP)
47 GOP DEM 1881-83 Garfield/Arthur (GOP)
48 DEM GOP 1883-85 Arthur (GOP)
49 DEM GOP 1885-87 Cleveland (DEM)
50 DEM GOP 1887-89 Cleveland (DEM)
51 GOP GOP 1889-91 Harrison (GOP)
52 DEM GOP 1891-93 Harrison (GOP)
53 DEM DEM 1893-95 Cleveland (DEM)
54 GOP GOP 1895-97 Cleveland (DEM)
55 GOP GOP 1897-99 McKinley (GOP)
56 GOP GOP 1899-1901 McKinley (GOP)
57 GOP GOP 1901-03 McKinley/Roosevelt (GOP)
58 GOP GOP 1903-05 Roosevelt (GOP)
59 GOP GOP 1905-07 Roosevelt (GOP)
60 GOP GOP 1907-09 Roosevelt (GOP)
61 GOP GOP 1909-11 Taft (GOP)
62 DEM GOP 1911-13 Taft (GOP)
63 DEM DEM 1913-15 Wilson (DEM)
64 DEM DEM 1915-17 Wilson (DEM)
65 DEM DEM 1917-19 Wilson (DEM)
66 GOP GOP 1919-21 Wilson (DEM)
67 GOP GOP 1921-23 Harding (GOP)
68 GOP GOP 1923-25 Harding/Coolidge (GOP)
69 GOP GOP 1925-27 Coolidge (GOP)
70 GOP GOP 1927-29 Coolidge (GOP)
71 GOP GOP 1929-31 Hoover (GOP)
72 DEM GOP 1931-33 Hoover (GOP)
73 DEM DEM 1933-35 Roosevelt (DEM)
74 DEM DEM 1935-37 Roosevelt (DEM)
75 DEM DEM 1937-39 Roosevelt (DEM)
76 DEM DEM 1939-41 Roosevelt (DEM)
77 DEM DEM 1941-43 Roosevelt (DEM)
78 DEM DEM 1943-45 Roosevelt (DEM)
79 DEM DEM 1945-47 Roosevelt/Truman (DEM)
80 GOP GOP 1947-49 Truman (DEM)
81 DEM DEM 1949-51 Truman (DEM)
82 DEM DEM 1951-53 Truman (DEM)
83 GOP GOP 1953-55 Eisenhower (GOP)
84 DEM DEM 1955-57 Eisenhower (GOP)
85 DEM DEM 1957-59 Eisenhower (GOP)
86 DEM DEM 1959-61 Eisenhower (GOP)
87 DEM DEM 1961-63 Kennedy (DEM)
88 DEM DEM 1963-65 Kennedy/Johnson (DEM)
89 DEM DEM 1965-67 Johnson (DEM)
90 DEM DEM 1967-69 Johnson (DEM)
91 DEM DEM 1969-71 Nixon (GOP)
92 DEM DEM 1971-73 Nixon (GOP)
93 DEM DEM 1973-75 Nixon/Ford (GOP)
94 DEM DEM 1975-77 Ford (GOP)
95 DEM DEM 1977-79 Carter (DEM)
96 DEM DEM 1979-81 Carter (DEM)
97 DEM GOP 1981-83 Reagan (GOP)
98 DEM GOP 1983-85 Reagan (GOP)
99 DEM GOP 1985-87 Reagan (GOP)
100 DEM DEM 1987-89 Reagan (GOP)
101 DEM DEM 1989-91 Bush, G.H.W. (GOP)
102 DEM DEM 1991-93 Bush, G.H.W. (GOP)
103 DEM DEM 1993-95 Clinton (DEM)
104 GOP GOP 1995-97 Clinton (DEM)
105 GOP GOP 1997-99 Clinton (DEM)
106 GOP GOP 1999-2001 Clinton (DEM)
107 GOP DEM* 2001-03 Bush, G.W. (GOP)
108 GOP GOP 2003-05 Bush, G.W. (GOP)
109 GOP GOP 2005-07 Bush, G.W. (GOP)
110 DEM DEM 2007-09 Bush, G.W. (GOP)
111 DEM DEM 2009-11 Obama (DEM)
112 GOP DEM 2011-13 Obama (DEM)
113 GOP DEM 2013-15 Obama (DEM)
114 GOP GOP 2015-17 Obama (DEM)
115 GOP GOP 2017-19 Trump (GOP)

Shouting: A Cure for Deafness

Congress is a place that has had many interesting characters and some outright bizarre incidents. The two people in this particular affair were Congressmen John Taber (R-N.Y.) and Leonard Schuetz (D-Ill.). Taber served in Congress from New York for forty years, and he didn’t change much during that time. From 1923 to 1963 he became known for his uncompromising conservatism (he voted against Social Security), his “meat axe” approach to budget cutting when he was chair of the House Appropriations Committee, and finally, his booming voice. Taber had one of the loudest voices in Congress and made sure his opposition to the New Deal was heard. His voice was described by observers to be “as loud as fifty other men” (Time, 1940). This ability had an unexpected benefit.

Taber was predictably strongly against a proposed increase in the federal minimum wage in 1940, and was going to give it his vocal all. Present was Schuetz, a supporter of the New Deal who since birth had been deaf in his left ear. As Taber shouted against raising the minimum wage, it impacted Schuetz like no one else. He began shaking convulsively, staggered to the cloakroom, and collapsed on a couch (Goodwin, 34). As he recovered from this reaction, he realized that he could hear with his left ear, and as a physician confirmed, better than with his right. Schuetz thanked Taber, and for him, this was affirmation from God that he was right to shout down the New Deal!


Goodwin, D.K. (1994). No Ordinary Time: Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Time Magazine. (20 May 1940). Congress. How to Cure Deafness.

Retrieved from http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,849227,00.html


The Grand Old Political Switch on Trade

Recently President Trump proposed a 25% hike on steel tariffs and a 10% hike on aluminum tariffs, which in a seemingly strange turn of events, is gaining support from Democrats and opposition from Republicans. Even stranger, however, is that for almost the first 120 years of the Republican Party’s existence, it was not only the traditionally Republican position to support protectionism, but also the conservative Republican position. The Democrats didn’t support “free trade” per se in that time, but they regularly backed lower tariffs as these were beneficial to farmers who gained from exporting goods and called for “tariffs for revenue only”. Tariff increases were not only opposed by Democrats but also by Congressional Populists in the 1890s and the two Socialists who served in the 1910s and 1920s. Conservatives lost power in 1910 partly because they passed the Aldrich-Payne Tariff in 1909, which under the leadership of Speaker Joe Cannon (R-Ill.) and Sen. Nelson Aldrich (R-R.I.) fell considerably short of a reduction of tariffs, with some rates falling while numerous others rose. On average, rates only fell overall by 5% (Bauer, 2016). Republicans almost universally opposed FDR’s Reciprocal Trade Act, which gave the president broad authority to negotiate trade agreements, at least partly because authority was being taken from the legislative and given to the executive. Additionally, Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal lobbying organization, would regularly count protectionist votes as against the liberal position on their ratings as late as 1970. However, the post-war global market would start to change minds on trade.

In 1962, President Kennedy proposed the Trade Expansion Act, which gave the president authority to cut tariffs up to 80% and resulted in the Kennedy Round of GATT negotiations on international trade. The last-ditch effort to fight this proposal came from Rep. Noah Mason (R-Ill.), a staunch old-guard conservative, who proposed a substitute that simply extended the Reciprocal Trade Act by one year. This measure was solidly defeated on 171-253 vote. This would be the last major vote in which conservative Republicans would decidedly take a protectionist position on trade as more businesses came to see its value.

Fast forward to 1970, House Ways and Means Committee chair Wilbur Mills (D-Ark.), who had in the past regularly backed reducing tariffs, proposed imposing import restrictions on textiles, gaining the “reluctant” support of the Nixon Administration (Dale, 1970). When the measure passed the House on November 19, it gained the majority of Democrats and split the Republican vote. Interestingly enough, a number of staunch conservatives who backed the Mason proposal in 1962 voted against this bill. Even John Bircher Congressmen John Rousselot (R-Calif.) and John Schmitz (R-Calif.) saw fit to oppose it. This would be the first time that a majority of Democrats and a minority of Republicans supported trade restrictions.

By 1983, the Republican Party and President Reagan would oppose domestic auto content legislation, urgently sought for by a majority of Democrats to protect auto workers and unions against Japanese competition. The GOP has since been a party that supports trade agreements and freer trade. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), for instance, passed the House in 1993 with Republicans voting for it 132-43 while Democrats opposed it 102-156, with the at the time obscure Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) joining them in opposition. In the Senate, Democrats split 27-28, while Republicans supported 34-10. In 1993, there were still a few members serving who had voted on the Mason motion in 1962. On one hand, Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Rep. Jamie Whitten (D-Miss.), who had voted for the Mason substitute in 1962, supported NAFTA 31 years later. On the other hand, Reps. William Natcher (D-Ky.), John Dingell (D-Mich.), and Jack Brooks (D-Tex.) who opposed the Mason substitute, voted against NAFTA.

While Trump may trigger the start of a political shift, don’t hold your breath: a solid majority of Republicans were in favor of TPP in 2015 and most of the people who voted on TPP are still serving in Congress as of 2018.

P.S.: If you are researching politics, Govtrack is your friend!


Bauer, P. (16 February 2018). Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act. Encyclopedia Britannica.

Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Payne-Aldrich-Tariff-Act

Dale, E.L. (26 June 1970). White House Asks Law to Restrict Textile Imports. The New York Times.

Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1970/06/26/archives/white-house-asks-law-to-restrict-textile-imports-stans-discloses.html

“H.R. 3450 (103rd): North American Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act.” Govtrack.

Retrieved from



“To Pass H.R. 379”. Govtrack.

Retrieved from



These were the 1897 Dingley Tariff votes in the House and Senate, with Populists voting against.

“To Pass H.R. 11019, A Bill to Reduce the Duties on Wool and Woolen Goods.” Govtrack.

Retrieved from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/62-1/h24

This was the 1911 House vote on tariff reduction on wool, with Socialist Victor Berger of Wisconsin voting in favor, joining nearly all Democrats and progressive Republicans.

“To Pass H.R. 7456.” Govtrack.

Retrieved from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/67-1/h69

This was the 1921 House vote on the Fordney-McCumber Tariff, with Socialist Meyer London of New York voting against, along with most Democrats.

“To Pass H.R. 18970”. Govtrack.

Retrieved from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/91-1970/h382

This was the 1970 House vote on the Nixon Administration-backed textile import restrictions bill. A majority of Democrats vote for, while the Republicans are slightly against, with many conservatives opposing.

“To Pass H.R. 1234, A Bill Establishing Domestic Content Requirements for Motor Vehicles Sold or Distributed in the United States (Motion Passed).”

Retrieved from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/98-1983/h417