Washington DC – The Congress: Supreme Legislative Body

Of the United States is the supreme legislative body, and has full authority under the Constitution to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper “for carrying on the national goverment. It is composed of eighty-eight Senators (two from each state) and three hundred and fifty-six Representatives, apportioned to the various states according to population. There are also four Delegates who have seats in the House of Representatives and represent the territories, but who have no vote. The legislative period of each Congress extends through two years, and is divided into two regular sessions. The first session is termed ” the long session,” as it begins in December and continues until June or July, or even later, at the option 0f Congress. The second session, termed ” the short session,” begins in December and ends at noon on the 3d of March. Congress assembles annually on the first Monday in December. Senators are chosen by the legislatures of the states for a term of six years, and Representatives are elected by the people for a term of two years. Each member of Congress receives a compensation of $5,000 per year, and is also allowed mileage at the rate of twenty cents per mile, with $125 annually for newspapers and stationery. The President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives have an additional compensation of $3,000 per year each.

As a matter of reference, the appointment of Representatives in Congress is herewith given: Alabama has nine Representatives; Arkansas, six; California, seven; Colorado, two ; Connecticut, four; Delaware, one; Florida, two; Georgia, eleven; Idaho, one; Illinois, twenty-two; Indiana, thirteen; Iowa, eleven: Kansas, eight; Kentucky, eleven; Louisiana, six; Maine, four; Maryland, six; Massachusetts, thirteen; Michigan, twelve; Minnesota, seven; Mississippi, seven; Missouri, fifteen; Montana, one; Nebraska, six; Nevada, one; New Hampshire, two ; New Jersey, eight ; New York, thirty-four ; North Carolina, nine ; North Dakota, one; Ohio, twenty-one: Oregon, two: Pennsylvania, thirty; Rhode Island, two; South Carolina, seven; South Dakota, two; Tennessee, ten; Texas, thirteen; Vermont, two; Virginia, ten; Washington, two; West Virginia, four; Winconsin, ten ; Wyoming, one.

The two Houses of Congress exercise joint legislation, but all bills to raise revenue for the government must originate in the House of Representatives. The’ Vice-President of the United States acts as President of the Senate, but has no vote unless the Senate is equally divided ; than he cast the deciding vote. The Senate elects a president pro tempore, who, in the absence of the Vice-President, presides over its sessions. The House elects a Speaker to preside. All the officials of the Senate and House serve two years, or during the legislative period of each Congress.

The bills introduced in either house are first referred to proper committees ; they are printed and placed on the files of the committees. Afterwards, when any committee reports a bill for action, it is read by title and then is assigned a place on a calendar until it is called up for discussion in what is known as the ” committee on the whole,” which is constituted of all the members of either house acting as a committee, and not as a house. When the Senate, or House, goes into committee of the whole, the presiding officer calls a member to the chair to preside. If a bill is adopted by the committee of the whole it is reported and ordered engrossed. After another reading it is debated, and then is voted upon, and if it receives a majority of all the votes cast, it is declared adopted, and is sent to the other house, where it is referred to the committee of the whole. If the second house adopts the bill it is transmitted to the President of the United States for his approval. If he signs the bill it becomes a law, and if he vetoes the bill it may still become a law if both houses pass it again, over the veto, by a two-thirds vote. If the bill is retained by the President for ten days after Congress has presented it to him, it becomes a law without his signature.

A statement of the cost of the sessions of Congress may be interesting and very astonishing to many readers. As the national legislature is very expensive, the details of its principal expenditures can be properly given for the information of those who pay the bills — the people of the United States. In the first place, the annual compensation and mileage of the members amount to $2,188,624. The Senators receive as compensation $380,000, and the Representatives and Delegates, $1,665,000. There is appropriated for mileage the sum of $143,624.

The miscellaneous expenses of the Senate are very large. The secretary of the Senate has a salary of $4,896 per year, and is also allowed $1,200 for the hire of a horse and wagon. The chief clerk and the financial clerk have $3,000 each. Then there are five other clerks who have $2,592 each, six clerks who have $2,220 each, and five more clerks who have $2,100 each. The librarian has $2,220, and the assistant librarian, $1,440. The keeper of the stationery has $2,102, and two assistant keepers, $1,800 and $1,000. For making a five minutes’ prayer each day in the Senate at the opening of the session, the chaplain has a salary of $900. The sergeant-at-arms and door-keeper has $4,320, and his clerk, $2,000. The assistant door-keeper and the acting assistant door-keeper have $2,592 each, and three other door-keepers, $1,800 each. The principal book-keeper has $4,320, and two assistant book-keepers, $2,592 each For reporting the proceedings of the Senate in short hand, the four official reporters are paid $6,250 each. The Senate postmaster has $2,250, his assistant, $2,088, and five mail-carriers, $1,200 each.

Nor is this all. The secretary to the President of the Senate has a salary of $2,102, and the messenger to the President’s room, $1,440. There are thirty-six messengers, for various purposes, whose aggregate salaries amount to $50,000 per year ; and there are eighteen pages who receive $2.50 per day each during the session. The numerous clerks to committees are paid, some $6 per day, and others from $2,220 to $2,500 per year. The other expenses of the Senate are considerable, and the total yearly expenditure is about $370,000, exclusive of the compensation and mileage of Senators.

The House of Representatives, being a much larger body than the Senate, has expenses which swell into an enormous aggregate. In addition to the great sum of money annually paid as compensation to the Representatives and Delegates, the salaries of the House officials and the other expenses will amount to nearly $550,000.

The chief clerk of the House has a salary of $4,500. To assist him there are five clerks with salaries of $3,000, one clerk with $2,500, and three clerks with $2,240. These clerks have seven assistants who are paid $2,000 each, and three assistants who are paid S1,440 each. In addition there are five book-keepers who have salaries of $1,600. The private secretary of the Speaker has $1,800, the Speaker’s clerk S1,600, and the clerk to the Speaker’s table $1,400. The principal door-keeper $2,500, with $500 allowed him for horse hire, and the two assistant door-keepers, have $2,000 each. Forty messengers, some of whom act as door-keepers, receive salaries aggregating $50,000. There are thirty-two clerks to committees who are paid $6 per day each, and numerous committee clerks who have salaries from $2,000 to S2,500. Thirty-one pages are employed at $2.50 per day each, and in the short session they also receive a gratuity of $75 each. There is an ” upholsterer and locksmith,” whose duty it is to keep the chairs and desks of the Representatives in good order, and for this work he is paid $1,440 per year.

The sergeant-at-arms, who disburses the funds of the House, has a salaried force equal to that of some national banks. His salary is $4,000, and $500 are allowed him for a horse and wagon, and $300 for postage stamps. He has a deputy at $2,000, a cashier at $3,000, a paying-teller at $2,000, a book-keeper at $i,800, a messenger at $1,200, a page at $60 per month, and a laborer at $660 per year. His office is furnished in an elegant and costly manner.

There are five official short-hand reporters who have salaries of $5,000 and two stenographers for committees, who also receive $5,000 each. The chaplain has $900, the postmaster, $2,500, and the assist-ant postmaster, $2,000. In the House post-office there are nine clerks with salaries of $1,200, and two clerks with $800. An employe known as the conductor of the elevator” has a salary of $1,200. The stationery and newspapers for the House cost $47,500 per year ; S10,000 are paid for repairs to the furniture, the expenses of special committees are $50,000, and contingent expenses many more thousands. If the amount of the compensation and mileage of the members is added to the amount expended for miscellaneous expenses, it will be found that the aggregate yearly cost of the House is more than $2,300,000.

Each annual session of Congress costs the country all of three millions of dollars, and if this vast sum is divided by the number of days or weeks of the session it will give a really startling result. For instance, the short session, deducting the usual holiday recess, is of less than twelve weeks’ duration. If the session is estimated at twelve weeks the cost of it will be $250,000 per week, and if Congress sits six days in each week, which is a rare occurrence, very nearly $42,000 per day. The long session will cost about one-half as much per day and week as the other.

The daily sessions of Congress begin at noon and continue until four or five o’clock in the afternoon. During the first weeks of the annual meeting both houses have short sittings, as there is very little that can be done until the committees get in working order, and report bills for action. The last weeks are crowded with business, and it is generally necessary to hold night-sessions. Much of the work of legislation is done in the committee-rooms, and some of the commit-tees are tasked to the utmost with a multiplicity of affairs, while others seldom have a meeting. Each house is opened daily with prayer by the chaplain, and after the journal of the previous day’s proceedings has been read, petitions and bills are introduced and referred to appropriate committees during what is called ” the morning hour.” Various reports are also made by committees, with accompanying bills, which are usually placed on a calendar for consideration in regular order. At the expiration of the morning hour, bills are taken from one or more of the calendars and considered until the adjournment. Whenever Congress sits on Saturday, it is generally ” for debate only.” The appropriation bills, or bills providing money for the support of the government departments, are usually taken up near the end of the session, and often occasion very lively debates. There is always a strong political feeling in both houses, and much of the legislation is tinged with it.

Whenever the Senate receives a communication from the President of the United States, it goes into what is called ” executive session” to discuss it. The galleries and floor are cleared of spectators and reporters, the doors are locked, and the Senators then feel at liberty to express themselves freely upon the President’s communication, which is usually in reference to appointments which are presented for confirmation by the Senate.

The Senate is quite a dignified body, and generally adheres to certain rules of decorum. It is rarely that there is a very noisy de-bate in this branch of Congress. In fact, the proceedings during the greater part of a session might be characterized as ” dull.” Now and then a matter will come up which will arouse party feeling, or perhaps sectional prejudice, and then earnest words will be spoken, and some flushed faces will be seen. Occasionally rather impertinent re-marks are made. One Senator, during a debate, said of another whose speech had proved very irritating, that ” It is generally believed the gentleman from rests his mind while talking”; to which saucy remark the Senator alluded to replied, ” The gentleman from reminds me of that sterile tract of land in Virginia which was said to be poor by nature and exhausted by cultivation.” But these “little pleasantries” are to be expected during the conflicts of the powerful opposing interests represented in the Senate.

The Senators have the right to speak as long as they please on most matters under consideration, and although long speeches are not the rule, occasionally one will be delivered of very great length. If the matter is not particularly interesting, or the speaker gifted as an orator, the Senators will retire from the chamber, or busy themselves at their desks over their correspondence or the newspapers, and the visitors in the galleries will gradually depart until few or none remain. But the Senator who has the floor goes on entirely regardless of the lack of listeners, as in most cases the speech is intended for the country, and an arrangement has been made with the correspondents of the press to give it a wide circulation.

One day during a debate a Senator who was known to have aspirations for the Presidency was addressing the Senate, and in the course of his remarks shouted in an impressive manner, ” I would rather be right than be President !” To this remark a Senator quickly retorted, ” The Senator from will never be either ! ” This retort was so applicable that the Senators burst into roars of laughter, and the presidential aspirant abruptly concluded his speech in a very embarrassed manner.

Not a few of the Senators have risen to eminent position from humble life, and they are often quite proud of the fact that they fought their way to prominence by the hard road of poverty and drudgery. It is related of two Senators of national fame that they worked together when young men on the same farm for several years. When they met in the Senate one said to the other, after congratulating him upon his election as Senator, ” Well, John, when we used to drive old Brown’s oxen we never expected to meet in the United States Senate.” ” No, Henry,” replied the other, we didn’t know there was such a place.”

In the Senate Chamber are some of the chairs used in the old chamber by the famous Senators of years ago —Webster, Clay, Benton, McDuffie, Cass, and others. These historic chairs have been carefully preserved, and once they were pointed out to visitors, but as relic hunters began to mutilate them, it was thought best to keep their identity a close secret, and now only Capt. Isaac Bassett, the venerable assistant door-keeper, and two or three of the oldest Senators know which they are. But few of the Senators and officials of the Senate who served in the old chamber are living. Mr. Bassett is the only official of those days at present connected with the Senate. He began his service in 1831 as a page, and has continued in various positions ever since.

The late Senator Henry B. Anthony, of Rhode Island, gave the longest continuous service of any Senator except Thomas Hart Benton. He entered the Senate in 1859, and served for twenty-five consecutive years, until his death in September, 1884.