Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics

Front Cover
Transaction Publishers, 1981 - Political Science - 344 pages

The government of the United States is a living system. As such, it is subject to subtle change and modification over time, but still maintains a constancy via its central nervous system-a congressional form of rule. Woodrow Wilson saw congressional government as "Committee" government. It is administered by semi-independent executive agents who obey the dictates of a legislature, though the agents themselves are not of ultimate authority or accountability. Written by Wilson when he was a twenty-eight-year-old graduate student, this is an astounding examination of the American legislative branches, especially in light of the fact that Wilson had not yet even visited Congress at the time of its composition.

Wilson divides Congressional Government into six parts. In part one, his introductory statement, Wilson analyzes the need for a federal Constitution and asks whether or not it is still a document that should be unquestioningly venerated. In part two, Wilson describes the make-up and functions of the House of Representatives in painstaking detail. Part three is concerned with taxation and financial administration by the government and its resulting economic repercussions. Part four is an explanation of the Senate's role in the legislative process. The electoral system and responsibilities of the president are the central concerns of part five. And Wilson concludes, in part six, with a both philosophical and practical summarization of the congressional form of the United States government, in which he also compares it to European modes of state governance.

In a new introduction specially prepared for this edition, William F. Connelly, Jr. compares Wilson, as a professional politician, to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. He notes that Wilson's ideas, which have had a lasting influence, helped form Gingrich's outlook on the role of the Constitution and the executive branch in the legislative process. He also investigates Wilson's criticism of Madison's separation of powers. Congressional Government is a document of continuing relevance, and will be essential for those interested in politics and American history.


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User Review  - Fledgist - LibraryThing

This is the classic foundational study of American political science, by one of the founding figures of the discipline. It is little read today, which is a pity. It is written from a critical ... Read full review

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This is worth reading as a study of how the US government got into the current mess. Is it true that the Constitution is a flawed tract? Or can it be used as a universal guide-post for the future? Just as biologists replaced the static picture of God's creationism with Darwin's evolution, so thinkers of Wilson's day developed Progressivism as an evolution of the original Constitution. This is Progress!
An interpretive reading is required to form a theory of what was going on. One might see the exuberance of Jack London, Spencer's "survival of the fittest,", Teddy Roosevelt's rough riders, etc. The industrial revolution was in full force, and, by golly, let's innovate an advanced central government funded by an income tax and regulated by a federal reserve bank!
This development of course is what the founders were afraid of. They tried to hobble the central government to limit it's dangerous growth and to limit the "factious nature" of political man. They passed the second amendment to arm the citizens against the central government. (not only against foreign invaders as is sometimes assumed.) The Constitution attempts to protect the people against the perrenial failure of centralized government, but the Progressives felt the developing complexity of the modern world required an expanded federal government.
Perhaps one could argue that neither the centralized state nor the libertarian approach is a good answer. This of course has led to experiments like socialism, communism, pluralism. But did Wilson anticipate the growth and fall of a narcissistic central government? And understand the limits of his own rationalist thinking?

Selected pages


The House of Representatives
The House of Representatives Revenue and Supply
The Senate
The Executive

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Page xxx - The effect of the first difference is, on the one hand, to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice, will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.
Page 2 - The laws reach but a very little way. Constitute government how you please, infinitely the greater part of it must depend upon the exercise of the powers which are left at large to the prudence and uprightness of ministers of state.
Page xxxiii - The trouble with the theory is that government is not a machine, but a 'living thing. It falls, not under the theory of the universe, but under the theory of organic life. It is accountable to Darwin, not to Newton.

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