200 Notable Days: Senate Stories, 1787 to 2002

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Government Printing Office
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 Comprised of 200 readable and informative historic vignettes reflecting all areas of Senate activities, from the well known and notorious to the unusual and whimsical. Prepared by Richard A. Baker, the Senates Historian, these brief sketches, each with an accompanying illustration and references for further reading, provide striking insights into the colorful and momentous history of The World's Greatest Deliberative Body.

Review from Goodreads:

"Jason" rated this book with 3 stars and had this to say

"This coffee table book on Senate History comes from none other than the U.S. Senate Historian, Richard Baker. The House of Representatives recently acquired noted historian of the Jacksonian era, Robert Remini as the official House Historian. He recently wrote a pretty impressive tomb on the House of Representatives. The Senate already has a 4 volume history written by US Senator, Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, so the Senate could not reply in that manner. So, I think the coffee table book was the best that we could muster.

I think this is the first time I have actually read a coffee table book from cover to cover. It is a chatty little story book filled with useful cocktail-party-history of the US Senate. That's useful knowledge to me, as I never know what to say at Washington cocktail parties. Perhaps anecdotes about Thomas Hart Benton will help break the ice.

The most striking thing to me about the book was the number of attacks on the Capitol. I had heard about all the incidents individually, but it is more jolting to see them sequentially. 3 bombings, 2 gun attacks and then the attempt on September 11th. In a way, its remarkable that the Capitol complex remained so open for so long. Note, I use the past tense here. As any of you who have visited the capitol recently will have noted, it is increasingly difficult to get in. And once the Capitol Visitor Center is completed, I expect it will be very much a controlled experience like the White House.

In any case, Baker's prose is breezy and he is dutifully reverent to the institution without missing the absurdities of Senate life. You also get a sense of the breakdown in lawfulness that preceded the Civil War. Its not just the canning of Charles Sumner, its also the Mississippi Senator pulling a gun on Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton in the Senate chamber. Then there is the case of California Senator David Broderick (an anti-slavery Democrat) being killed in a duel by the pro-slavery Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court. Apparently, back in those days, California was a lot more like modern Texas. In any case, the slide toward anarchy can definitely be found long before Fort Sumter.

Another interesting aside that I really never knew concerns the order of succession. All of us learn in school that it is the President, then the Vice President, then the Speaker of the House and then President Pro Tempore of the Senate. After that, you get the members of the Cabinet, and I was aware that as new departments were created, they have been shuffled up a bit. What I did not know, is that Congress was not always in the order of succession at all. For a long time, it devolved from the President to the VP and then directly to the Secretary of State. Furthermore, when they first inserted Congress, it was the President Pro Tempore of the Senate who was third in line over the Speaker of the House. The structure we all know and love was only finalized in 1947 after some hard thinking in light of FDR's demise and the Constitutional Amendments on succession that followed.

Anyway, this is a book for government geeks. If you are one, its a nice read and about as pleasant a way to introduce yourself to Senate history as I have found. If not, there are prettier coffee table books to be had."


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