Editor's Introduction

AuthorGerhard Loewenberg
Date01 November 2005
Published date01 November 2005
475Editor’s Introduction
Editor’s Introduction
In cross-national perspective, it is one of the anomalies of the
political system of the United States that it has only two political parties
in the legislature. Research on the role of the two parties in organizing
Congress has focused on the majority party to the neglect of the minority,
in part because data on the process of allocating committee assign-
ments between the parties is unavailable. In the lead article in this
issue, Keith Krehbiel and Alan E. Wiseman test the conventional wisdom
that the majority party dominates the organization of Congress. They
investigate committee assignments early in the 20th century when Joseph
G. Cannon, “the tyrant from Illinois,” ruled as Speaker of the House. It
was a historical period generally regarded as the high point of majority
party control. What makes their investigation possible is an unusual set
of recently discovered data including a ledger that Cannon kept
containing committee requests and assignments. The authors are able
to show that the Speaker, whose authoritarian control has often been
asserted, in fact deferred substantially to the minority party’s
recommendations in the assignment of positions on committees. This
evidence of remarkable minority party influence even at a time when a
powerful Speaker seemed to rule the House suggests that bipartisan-
ship rather than majority rule governed and presumably still governs
the organization of Congress. If this conclusion holds, then the two
parties in the U.S. House of Representatives play an organizational
role similar to that of the multiplicity of parties that exist in most other
legislatures, reinforcing the general understanding that the running of
legislative assemblies requires inter-party consensus.
Representation is a defining characteristic of parliaments and
legislatures, but it is a protean concept that is difficult to pin down.
Giving it empirical referents has always been a challenge. As a relation-
ship between voters and legislators, the dominant conceptualization has
been the one developed by John Wahlke, Heinz Eulau, and their
associates in their influential but neglected book, The Legislative System
(1962). They distinguished among members as “delegates,” “trustees,”

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