America's Congress


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Actions in the Public Sphere, James Madison Through Newt Gingrich

David R. Mayhew

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To understand American politics and government, we need to recognize not only that members of Congress are agents of societal interests and preferences but also that they act with a certain degree of autonomy and consequence in the country’s public sphere. In this illuminating book, a distinguished political scientist examines actions performed by members of Congress throughout American history, assessing their patterns and importance and their role in the American system of separation of powers.

David R. Mayhew examines standard history books on the United States and identifies more than two thousand actions by individual members of the House and Senate that are significant enough to be mentioned. Mayhew offers insights into a wide range of matters, from the nature of congressional opposition to presidents and the surprising frequency of foreign policy actions to the timing of notable activity within congressional careers (and the way that congressional term limits might affect these performances). His book sheds new light on the contributions to U.S. history made by members of Congress.

David R. Mayhew, Sterling Professor of Political Science at Yale University, is also the author of Congress: The Electoral Connection and Divided We Govern, both published by Yale University Press.

“This refreshing and interesting book offers an entirely new perspective on Congress’s history and its role in U.S. politics. It is a book that every student of Congress will want to read.”—Gary C. Jacobson, author of The Politics of Congressional Elections

“Professor of political science Woodrow Wilson lamented that ‘Congress cannot, under our present system [1880s] . . . be effective for public instruction of public opinion, or the cleansing of political action.’ If the system and the trend had continued, our public sphere would be roughly a pie shaped wedge extending a few blocks from the capital, incorporating a small part of the Northwest of Washington, DC. But no one took Wilson seriously enough or had the ingenuity to put his proposition to the test, until David Mayhew. In this important book, Mayhew uses common sense to turn historical scholarship into data. And he fulfills his purpose, to evaluate ‘public affairs in a democracy’ rather than merely to deplore its passing.”—Theodore J. Lowi, John L. Senior Professor of American Institutions, Cornell University

“An intriguing book, America’s Congress explores a key gap in the formal study of national politics and provides an instructive look into the dynamics of Congress.”—Joshua Micah Marshall, American Prospect

“Mayhew has written an important book of broad scope that looks at Congress in historical perspective and seeks to understand the nature of important ‘actions’ taken by members of Congress. . . . A must for those interested in congressional history and strongly recommended for students of Congress and U.S. history.”—J. Heyrman, Choice

“Students of Congress will find their understanding of the institution and its members enriched by it, and the book would serve as a helpful supplement to an advanced undergraduate or graduate course on Congress.”—David Menefee-Libey, Congress & The Presidency

"America’s Congress offers a unique perspective to Congress’s role in American history—and reveals the challenges to come for future members."—Deborah L. Acomb, National Journal

“Splendid.”—Michael Barone, Public Interest

“America’s Congress is a model of careful research and crisp writing. . . . [A] superb study. . . . I predict [this book] will become a standard text in government courses. . . . In his splendid work, David Mayhew offers convincing evidence that representative democracy is alive and well in America and making a significant difference—a condition the founders would warmly applaud.”—Lee Edwards, World & I
ISBN: 9780300093353
Publication Date: February 8, 2002
288 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
21 graphs

The Electoral Connection
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Divided We Govern

Party Control, Lawmaking, and Investigations, 1946-2002, Second Edition

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