112th Congress Sworn-in — John Boehner Elected Speaker of the House — Republican Control of the House Begins

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.


Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
John A. Boehner, the speaker of the House, after formally being elected on the opening day of the 112th Congress on Wednesday



  • Boehner pledges an open ‘people’s House’, 112th Congress Commences — Minute by Minute Analysis: Speaker John Boehner today ushered in a new era for the House of Representatives, pledging his Republican Party will lead with humility and be “honest, accountable and responsive” to the American people.
    Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi transferred power and the speaker’s gavel to Boehner, who leads a House with 242 Republicans aiming to overturn some of President Obama’s domestic achievements, including the nation’s sweeping health care law.
    “This is the people’s House. This is their Congress. It’s about them, not us,” Boehner said. “What they want is a government that is honest, accountable and responsive to their needs — a government that respects individual liberty, honors our heritage, and bows before the public it serves.”
    Boehner gave a nod to the partisanship that has divided the House, noting “a great deal of scar tissue” has been built up. He urged lawmakers to “disagree without being disagreeable” and to keep their eyes on common goals…. – USA Today, 1-5-11


  • GOP takes charge: New Speaker Boehner leads House: Claiming power beneath the Capitol dome, resurgent Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives on Wednesday as the 112th Congress convened in an era of economic uncertainty. Dozens of tea party-backed lawmakers took office in both houses, eager to cut spending and reduce government’s reach.
    “The people voted to end business as usual, and today we begin carrying out their instructions,” said newly elected House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, replacing Democrat Nancy Pelosi and transformed instantly into the nation’s most powerful Republican in a new era of divided government…. – AP, 1-5-11
  • Boehner Takes Gavel in House With Pledge to Bring Change: The new speaker of the House, John Boehner, promised a new era of transparency in lawmaking on Wednesday, but he also pledged to aggressively push forward the conservative agenda that swept his party into power. A roll-call vote of the chamber’s 435 members ended the way the results of November’s election determined that it would: with more votes for Mr. Boehner than for the Democratic leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, making him speaker.
    In remarks after taking the gavel from Ms. Pelosi, Mr. Boehner described himself as humbled, and said that the changes he envisions would restore trust to “the people’s House.”
    “We will honor our Pledge to America, built through a process of listening to the people, and we will stand firm on our Constitutional principles that built our party, and built a great nation,” said Mr. Boehner, now second in line of succession to the presidency. “We will do these things, however, in a manner that restores and respects the time-honored right of the minority to an honest debate — a fair and open process.”… – NYT, 1-5-11
  • Boehner moved to tears as he moves to speakership: The chin started trembling partway down the center aisle as the applause rose to a roar. John Boehner, the emotional Ohioan about to become the House’s new speaker, took his time, shaking hands with colleagues and their children on his way to the rostrum. At its foot, the hankie came out.
    “It’s still just me,” he told the House after departing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, dry-eyed, handed Boehner his outsized “gavel of choice.”
    It is known to bug Boehner that he can’t keep it together at big moments, but apparently it runs in the family. At the moment Pelosi transferred power to her successor, at least six hankies had been deployed by Boehner’s proudly weeping family members watching from the gallery overhead…. – AP, 1-5-11
  • 112th Congress Officially Opens: The nation’s 112th Congress opened officially Wednesday, returning divided government to the nation’s capital as Republicans took over running the House of Representatives and increased their numbers in the Senate. At noon, with the words, “the House will come to order,” the clerk opened the chamber’s new session, which will soon elevate Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio to his new role as speaker.
    Officials said Mr. Boehner’s formal swearing-in would take place closer to 2:30 in the afternoon, followed by a short speech by Mr. Boehner.
    But already, the signs of change were everywhere at the Capitol. A new sign with gold-colored lettering appeared over the entrance to the new speaker’s suite of offices: “Speaker of the House John A. Boehner,” it said. A similar sign proclaiming former Speaker Nancy Pelosi the Democratic Leader went up outside her new offices…. – NYT, 1-5-11
  • Taking the House, GOP primes for fight with Obama: Ascending to speaker of the House, Rep. John Boehner is ready to take the gavel from Democrat Nancy Pelosi, vowing to “give government back to the people” and bring an end to congressional gridlock.
    “The American people have humbled us. They have refreshed our memories as to just how temporary the privilege to serve is,” Boehner says in remarks prepared for his installation later Wednesday as the new speaker. “This is their Congress. It’s about them, not us.”
    Taking control of the House at last, Republicans are rushing straight into a political fight with President Barack Obama over health care and changes in Washington they say voters demanded in the midterm elections.
    “No longer can we kick the can down the road,” Boehner will tell the House. “The people voted to end business as usual, and today we begin carrying out their instructions.”… – AP, 1-5-11
  • Pelosi’s historic run ends; GOP takes control: Rep. Nancy Pelosi ended her historic four-year tenure as House Speaker Wednesday, reciting her career highlights and vowing to defend them before handing power to her Republican successor, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio.
    Boehner will lead a 242-194 Republican majority, including a giant 87-member class of newly elected Republicans there in part because of a voter backlash against Pelosi, the San Francisco Democrat, who became the minority leader…. – The San Francisco Chronicle, 1-5-11
  • Obama Urges Democrats to ‘Fight Back’ Against GOP Attack Plan: President Barack Obama and administration officials are pushing back against Republicans who formally took majority control of the House of Representatives on Wednesday pledging to roll back one of President Obama’s key legislative victories.
    As the 112th session of Congress convened on Capitol Hill, with Republicans holding a 242 to 193 majority, but with Democrats still in charge in the U.S Senate, President Obama’s spokesman and other administration officials talked about what they call the dangers of overturning key aspects of health care reform. Republicans are embarking on an initial agenda ahead of Mr. Obama’s State of the Union Address later this month to challenge the historic reforms approved when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress.
    In accepting the gavel as the new Speaker of the House, from Democrat Nancy Pelosi, Ohio Republican John Boehner, spoke about ending “business as usual” on Capitol Hill, which he said Americans voted for in the November mid-term elections. “No longer can we fall short,” said Boehner. “No longer can we kick the can down the road. The people voted to end business as usual and today we begin to carry out their instructions.”… – VOA, 1-5-11
  • Republicans Set to Wield New Power in Washington: Republicans will lay claim to a broad — if partial — governing mandate at exactly noon on Wednesday, ushering into Washington scores of new conservative lawmakers who promise to challenge President Obama’s vision for America’s economic future. The start of the 112th Congress will be marked in the nation’s capital city by grand ceremonies and symbolic gestures. The new owners of prime offices will get their keys. Online Twitter handles will be quietly changed. Powerful committee assignments will become official. And a flood of first-time lawmakers will raise their hands as they take the oath of office. In the House, Representative John Boehner of Ohio will accept the speaker’s gavel from Nancy Pelosi of California, a symbolic act that will transfer power inside “the People’s House” to Republicans and will bring an abrupt end to the tenure of the first woman to lead the institution…. – NYT, 1-5-11
  • As Boehner Ascends, His Power Comes With Caveats: Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio is set to complete a remarkable political revival Wednesday when he becomes the 61st speaker of the House, placing him squarely at the crossroads between the desires of conservative activists to reshape Washington and the reality of delivering in a divided capital.
    Driven from his party’s leadership in 1998 and sidelined for nearly a decade, Mr. Boehner, a 61-year-old Ohio native who revels in his big-family, Roman Catholic roots, now faces the challenge of harnessing the Tea Party zeal that propelled him to power without disheartening those who might be expecting too much.
    While he will preside over a substantial and energized Republican majority, Mr. Boehner must contend with a Democratic president with whom he has little personal history and a Democratic Senate leader who is disinclined to make Mr. Boehner’s life easier and who failed to consider hundreds of bills passed by the House even when his own party ran it…. – NYT, 1-4-11
  • Congress to Return With G.O.P. Vowing to Alter Rules: Here is how most people think laws get made in this town: A member of Congress introduces a bill, his colleagues express great love/outrage/urgency about the bill in front of C-Span, and members decide to pass or defeat it in a roll-call vote.
    In reality, a complex web of rules — which differ greatly from the House to the Senate — ordains how bills become laws, determining who will speak about them and for how long, what constraints will be placed on alternatives or amendments offered to the measures, and which issues will come up and in what form.
    In short, when it comes to Congress, rules are as important as in baseball, only more malleable.
    It is usual for the House to tweak these rules with each new session. But Representative John A. Boehner, who on Wednesday will be sworn in as the new speaker, has made serious alterations in the rules. Members will vote on Wednesday on changes that ostensibly increase the transparency of lawmaking, but also consolidate Republican power over the budget process…. – NYT, 1-4-11
  • Rep. Shuler Touts His 11 Votes for Speaker: Rep. Heath Shuler (D., N.C.) is boasting that he received 11 votes for House speaker today, a show of defiance aimed at House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.). Mr. Shuler’s office issued a press release headed “Shuler Makes History” and noting that votes for speaker are typically straight party-line votes between the Democratic and Republican leaders. A total of 19 Democrats voted for someone other than Pelosi (including one who voted “present”), meaning about 10% of House Democrats voted against Ms. Pelosi. The final vote was 241 for Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) and 173 for Ms. Pelosi, in addition to the 19 dissidents…. – WSJ, 1-5-11
  • House GOP challenges Obama to join them: On the brink of power, House Republicans challenged President Barack Obama on Tuesday to join them in a drive to cut federal spending, ban earmarks for favored projects and overhaul the nation’s tax code. At the same time, incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., conceded the new GOP majority intends to bypass its own new rules when it votes next week to wipe out the health care law approved by Democrats in 2010. “We just need to repeal it,” Cantor said of the effort to fulfill one of the party’s main campaign promises from last fall. Republicans, their ranks expanded by tea party-backed freshmen, take control of the House when the 112th Congress convenes at noon on Wednesday. One of the first orders of business will be the election of Ohio Republican John Boehner as speaker, replacing Democrat Nancy Pelosi…. – AP, 1-4-11
  • Obama’s shave ice order: A sign of bipartisanship?: Does the president’s flexibility on shave ice flavors show an openness to compromise as the Republicans take control of the House?… – CS Monitor, 1-4-11
  • Both sides prepare to battle over repeal of health-care law: As Congress members prepare to fight anew over the federal law overhauling the health-care system, activists on both sides of the issue are gearing up for a sequel to last year’s raucous debate. Supporters of the law have begun planning protests, petitions and phone calls to block repeal. Its opponents are cheering efforts to dismantle the measure, which House GOP leaders have said they will put up for a vote on Jan. 12.
    The strategies that are emerging could set up a grass-roots battle that rivals the shouting town halls and Capitol Hill marches that made headlines before the law was passed…. – WaPo, 1-4-11
  • Democrats Hunting for Vulnerable Republicans to Shoot Down in 2012: Democrats are sharpening their swords ahead of the next congressional session, looking to target vulnerable Republicans who could either be picked off in 2012 or at least caricatured so that they become liabilities for their party. Basically, it’s payback time.
    After Republicans routed Democrats in November by ousting moderates in GOP-friendly territory and turning House Speaker Nancy Pelosi into political kryptonite for her caucus, the election losers are mapping a strategy to reverse the tide in two years. They want to halt in their tracks GOP ambitions to build an absolute majority on Capitol Hill over the course of two elections…. – Fox News, 1-3-11
  • Democrats Plan Push to Curtail Use of Filibusters: A band of Senate Democrats signaled on Monday that it would press forward when Congress convenes this week with a proposal to curtail filibusters and other methods of slowing the chamber’s work, but a bit of procedural sleight-of- hand could delay any floor fight over the contentious rules changes until later in January.
    Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, said that he intended to call for new limits on filibusters that would require senators to be on the floor if they seek to derail legislation. He and other Democrats, frustrated at Republicans’ ability to tie up the Senate, want to make it harder to erect other procedural obstacles as well.
    Citing the Constitution and prior Senate rulings, Mr. Udall has argued that senators have the ability to change the chamber’s rules by a majority vote on the first day of the new Congress, which for the 112th Congress begins at noon Wednesday.
    “I am intending on offering my constitutional option on the first day,” Mr. Udall said in a telephone interview as he prepared to return to Capitol Hill…. – NYT, 1-3-11
  • Obama aide: Don’t ‘play chicken’ with debt ceiling: Some Republican lawmakers said Sunday opposed raising the ceiling on the nation’s debt without tackling government spending, and President Barack Obama’s top economic adviser warned against “playing chicken” on the issue….
    Austan Goolsbee, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said that refusing to raise the debt ceiling would essentially push the country into defaulting on its financial obligations for the first time in its history.
    “The impact on the economy would be catastrophic,” Goolsbee told “This Week” on ABC. “That would be a worse financial economic crisis than anything we saw in 2008.” Goolsbee added: “I don’t see why anybody’s talking about playing chicken with the debt ceiling.”… – AP, 1-2-11


  • Boehner Sets Austere Tone for Incoming GOP Majority: The austerity of tone being set by the incoming speaker on the eve of his swearing-in ceremony Wednesday is being matched by a frugality in spending. It was Friends of John Boehner, the congressman’s official campaign organization, that chartered the five buses that transported dozens of hometown supporters, including 10 of Boehner’s 11 siblings, from the Wetherington Golf and Country Club, in West Chester, Ohio, to the nation’s capital Tuesday.
    And among the first bills that will be introduced in the House under Boehner’s speakership will be a measure that cuts congressional spending by 5 percent. Analysts called the move largely symbolic, noting that it would hardly make a dent in the country’s $1 trillion deficit. In his office’s first press release of the new year, Boehner claimed Tuesday the measure, if signed into law by President Obama, will immediately save taxpayers $35 million.
    “To reverse Washington’s job-killing spending binge, sacrifices will be required throughout the federal government,” Boehner said in the statement, “and we are starting with ourselves.” In a hint of how the House GOP leadership may follow up Thursday’s vote, the incoming Majority Leader, Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., issued his own statement saying he hopes federal agencies will follow suit, and cut their own budgets. “If not,” Cantor added, “we’re happy to do it for them.”… – Fox News, 1-3-11
  • Who to watch in the new House of Representatives and Senate: The key players, on both sides of the aisle, who are likely to give Barack Obama a tough time when the new US Congress convenes in Washington this week
    The new Republican speaker of the House of Representatives set the tone for his party’s renewed control by asserting that its victory means “the American people want a smaller, more accountable government”. Boehner, who has drawn derision for his frequent crying outbursts, has promised that his priorities will be “cutting spending, repealing the job-killing healthcare law, and helping get our economy moving again”.
    With a large majority in the House, Boehner has the power to funnel a stream of legislation towards the Democratic- controlled Senate and the White House that could force the Democrats into the politically embarrassing position of blocking populist moves to cut budgets and curb the power of government. Guardian UK, 1-3-11
  • G.O.P. Vows to Cut Spending and Roll Back Health Care Bill: Congressional Republicans vowed Sunday to use their new majority in the House and their stronger position in the Senate to roll back the Obama administration’s health care overhaul and press for sharp, rapid cuts in spending.
    “As part of our pledge, we said that we would bring up a vote to repeal health care early,” Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday.” He added, “That will happen before the president’s State of the Union address,” expected in late January.
    A flat-out repeal of the health care law would face a steep hurdle in the Senate, where Democrats will cling to a slim majority, but Mr. Upton said that House action would not be merely symbolic.
    “If we pass this bill with a sizable vote, and I think that we will, it will put enormous pressure on the Senate to do perhaps the same thing,” he said. “But then, after that, we’re going to go after this bill piece by piece.”… – NYT, 1-2-11
  • G.O.P. Newcomers Set Out to Undo Obama Victories: Soon after the 112th Congress convenes Wednesday, Republicans in the House plan to make good on a campaign promise that helped vault many new members to victory: voting to repeal President Obama’s health care overhaul. The vote, which Republican leaders pledged would occur before the president’s State of the Union address later this month, is intended both to appeal to the Tea Party-influenced factions of the House Republican base and to emphasize the muscle of the new party in power. But it could also produce an unintended consequence: a chance for Democrats once again to try their case in support of the health care overhaul before the American public.
    Democrats, who in many cases looked on the law as a rabid beast best avoided in the fall elections, are reversing course, gearing up for a coordinated all-out effort to preserve and defend it. Under the law, they say, consumers are already receiving tangible benefits that Republicans would snatch away…. – NYT, 1-2-11
  • House GOP plans two-pronged assault on health law: The new Republican-controlled House plans to schedule a vote to repeal the sweeping health care overhaul before President Barack Obama delivers his annual State of the Union address late this month, incoming House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said Sunday.
    “We have 242 Republicans,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” He added, “There will be a significant number of Democrats, I think, that will join us. You will remember when that vote passed in the House last March, it only passed by seven votes.”
    Upton, whose committee will play a key role in the GOP’s effort to roll back the law, said that he believes the House may be near the two-thirds majority required to override a presidential veto.
    “If we pass this bill with a sizeable vote, and I think that we will, it will put enormous pressure on the Senate to do perhaps the same thing,” he said. “But then, after that, we’re going to go after this bill piece by piece.”… – Politico, 1-2-11


  • Boehner’s First Remarks as House Speaker: Following is a text of the speech by Representative John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, given after he was elected House Speaker on Wednesday, as released by Mr. Boehner’s office:
    “I am honored and humbled to represent a great, hard-working community in Congress. The people of Ohio’s Eighth Congressional District continue to afford me the privilege to serve, for which I am deeply grateful. “We gather here today at a time of great challenges. Nearly one in ten of our neighbors are looking for work. Health care costs are still rising for families and small businesses. Our spending has caught up with us, and our debt will soon eclipse the size of our entire economy. Hard work and tough decisions will be required of the 112th Congress. No longer can we fall short. No longer can we kick the can down the road. The people voted to end business as usual, and today we begin carrying out their instructions…. – NYT, 1-5-11
  • Cabinet members urge GOP not to repeal health care law: The letter — signed by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner — laid out the consequences of the law being repealed.
    “If the Affordable Care Act were repealed as some have proposed, the individuals we have heard from plus the millions of families, seniors, other individuals, and small businesses already helped would lose this support and these protections,” the letter said.
    “We urge you to consider all that this law has already done to improve the health and financial security of so many Americans and what it will mean to hundreds of millions of more in the next several years as you evaluate any proposal that would set the Nation back on a path to higher costs and skyrocketing premiums, less competition, and fewer consumer protections against industry abuses.”
    “We (want to) bring us closer to the day when all Americans can get the care they need to live healthy, productive, and full lives.” – CNN, 1-5-11
  • Freshman Rep. pledges to forgo federal health insurance: As House Republicans prepare to introduce a repeal of the health care reform bill, one new GOP congressman said he is standing by his pledge to forgo federal health insurance despite a potentially expensive personal impact. Rep.-elect Joe Walsh, R-Illinois, told CNN’s Jim Acosta that he and his wife will not accept the insurance offered to members of Congress because he made a pledge during the campaign last January.
    “My wife and I are going to struggle a little bit because of it. But I was sent to Washington to do what I said I was going to do,” Walsh said in an interview on American Morning. “I don’t want to burden the American taxpayer with my health care bill. The federal government is my employer. Right now, the health care system has a real bias against folks who need to shop out there in the individual market,” Walsh said…. – CNN, 1-4-11
  • Tim Kaine, DNC chair: Obama won’t ‘play mother may I?’ with GOP: “What we saw at the end of the 2010 in that lame duck session was dramatic accomplishments, the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell, the approval of the START Treaty, tax compromise going forward with additional stimulus, all those were done with some Republican votes,” said Kaine. “So if there are going to be members of the Republican party who are willing to reach out and work as the president reaches toward them, we’ll see some strong accomplishments. We’re also going to see this president not being afraid to be the chief executive of the American public asked him to be. He’s not going to play “mother may I?” with the Republicans. He’s going to govern, but if the Republicans are willing to work as they did at the end of that lame duck session, I think we will see productive efforts in a number of ways. There will be disagreements, surely, that’s part of the process, but there are many more areas where we can continue to agree and move forward.” – NECN, 1-2-11


  • Troy: Internal rivals could be Barack Obama’s downfall: While much of the discussion since U.S. President Barack Obama’s “shellacking” in the 2010 congressional midterm elections has focused on the Republican surge, Obama also should worry about his base. In the last 50 years, the only incumbent presidents who have lost their re-election bids first faced primary challenges for renomination. In short, Obama better worry about his own party before dealing with the Tea Party.
    Although in the age of modern communications the power of any incumbent is considerable, the American president’s powers are particularly formidable. By being both the head of state and head of government, in effect the king and the prime minister, the president can tap all kinds of non-partisan patriotic emotions while monopolizing the airwaves and using political muscle. During the Christmas season, for example, as the president hosts thousands of influential Americans in the White House, as he lights the national Christmas tree and calls for national unity, he serves as the high priest of America’s civic religion, transcending mundane partisan concerns.
    So it is difficult — and has always been wrenching — to fire a president. In the 20th century, only five incumbents lost re-election bids, and in the last half century, it occurred only three times. Each time it required a major crisis and a serious insurgency, whereby someone with purer ideological credentials from the president’s own party first weakened the incumbent before the general election….
    History is instructive not predictive. Still, it is hard to see how Obama could lose if the economy is booming and his party is united. And it is hard to see Obama winning if the economy remains depressed, Democrats are deeply divided, and Republicans find a candidate who is popular, credible and effective. – Toronto Star, 1-4-11
  • Thomas J. Whalen Professor of Social Science, Boston University: Can we all agree that when a party achieves majority status, they are going to aggressively push their political agenda? The predominant Washington mantra has always been “to the victor goes the spoils,” not transparency and reform. Ironically this is one issue both Democrats and Republicans can privately agree on. Arena, 1-4-11
  • Tevi Troy Senior Fellow, the Hudson Institute; Former Deputy HHS secretary: President Obama has reportedly been studying Bill Clinton’s successful 1995 playbook in preparation for a budget showdown with the new Republican House majority. The president should beware: what worked for Clinton against Newt Gingrich in 1995 may turn out turn out very differently in 2011. Incoming Speaker John Boehner was part of the GOP leadership in 1995, and is therefore unlikely to repeat the mistakes of his predecessors.
    In addition, after the U.S. economic meltdown and the budgetary crises in Europe, the American public is more skeptical of spending and wary of government debt than Americans were in the mid-1990s.
    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the House GOP has access to a conservative media apparatus that would have made their post-1994 counterparts extremely jealous, with new outlets that can tell the Republican side of the story in print, on the web, and on TV.
    Add up these three factors and the GOP is in far better shape to survive a budget showdown with a weakened President Obama than the Republicans were in the mid-1990s. – Arena, 1-4-11
  • Julian E. Zelizer Professor of History and Public Affairs, Princeton: The Republican leadership will do everything possible to avoid a government shutdown. Most importantly, the memories of 1995-1996 looms large and the GOP won’t want to repeat that mistake. The shutdown at that point undercut all the momentum of the party and gave Democrats an opening for a comeback. This time around, they will aim to avoid the shutdown, but place immense pressure for spending cuts. – Arena, 1-4-11
  • On eve of new Congress, GOP struggles with rift over social issues: While the tea party movement has focused on fiscal concerns, social issues remain key for other GOP lawmakers, who are unhappy that such issues seem to have less importance these days.
    “Social issues are quite damaging and create internal dissension within the Republican Party,” says Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University in New Jersey. “Many Republicans realize that in the last 20 years, those cultural issues are not winning issues for Republicans, especially gay rights.” He adds, “Their best hope is not to talk about it and focus on the economic and national-security issues where Republicans are more united and more in touch with where public opinion is.” CS Monitor, 1-4-11
  • Julian E. Zelizer: Senate should let majority rule: Suddenly no one is talking about Congress as the “broken branch” of government any more. Conservatives are complaining that the 111th Congress did too much, while liberals are boasting about all that was accomplished.
    Within the span of a month, the media discussion shifted from the chronic complaints about partisan gridlock to, lo and behold, claims that this was the most productive Congress since the mid-1960s. Everything seems just fine on Capitol Hill….
    Both parties should cede some of their power — Republicans the power they have and Democrats the power they would would want should they lose control of the Senate — to improve the legislative process for generations to come. That would be historic. – CNN, 1-3-11

George Rable: In ‘God’s almost chosen peoples,’ UA historian explores religion in Civil War


Source: University of Alabama, 1-5-11

Amid the horrendous slaughter of the Civil War, people from all denominations turned to their faith to explain and justify the causes for which they fought – and to find reasons for pressing on. A new book by a University of Alabama professor takes up this essential topic in American history,150 years after the start of the war.

“Many Americans interpreted the causes and the course and the consequences of the war in religious terms,” said Dr. George C. Rable, Charles G. Summersell Chair in Southern History at UA. “Religion was an important part of their motivation, it’s an important part of sustaining the war effort, and it helped people justify the horrendous sacrifices that the war required.

“It is a source of morale and a source of meaning. This is war beyond what anyone could imagine in the spring of 1861 when it began. People asked themselves, ‘why did all this carnage occur? What did it mean? Should the war continue? To what end?’ And they sought answers in religion.”

Rable’s book is titled “God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War,” published by the University of North Carolina Press. Publishers Weekly, in a starred review, stated that the book is “brilliant and groundbreaking … Rable’s engrossing study of the role of religion in the Civil War will stand as the definitive religious history of America’s most divisive conflict.”

Rable researched and wrote this volume over the course of nine years; he relied extensively on primary sources, including journals, politicians’ letters and denominational records. Of particular interest to Rable were the many published sermons from preachers in a variety of denominations and religious newspapers, which published many articles about the war.

“The number of published sermons is staggering,” Rable said. “The religious press actively commented on the war in a variety of ways.Pacifist Quaker editors, for example, might try to ignore the war, though some got into trouble for putting war news in their papers.”

Ideas about sin, divine providence and judgment pervaded religious tracts and discussions of the time, Rable said. Both Northerners and Southerners believed that God was on their side, and that divine providence favored their efforts. In fact, the Civil War can be seen in part as a conflict over biblical interpretation – what did the Bible say about slavery and God’s will?

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“As far as the pro-slavery people were concerned, they had the Bible on their side,” Rable said. “They could cite chapter and verse, whereas the anti-slavery people had to appeal more to the spirit of the Gospels. In many cases, it became a very technical argument over the translation of Hebrew and Greek words. A lot of arid treatises were produced on slavery in the Bible. One of the things that makes religion so vital to the understanding of the war is that it was very important to both sides. It was very easy for people to claim that God was on their side.”

As the war grew more horrific and the fortunes of each side waxed and waned, preachers and other believers began seeing the war as a kind of judgment, either against the sin of slavery or for some other misdeeds.

“The Confederates thought they were being punished not for holding slaves but for not doing it in the right way – for splitting up families, for not teaching slaves how to read the Bible, for not providing religious instruction, for cruel treatment – that sort of thing,” Rable said. “Slavery was fine according to their way of thinking, but individual slaveholders had been guilty of essentially violating divine law and not treating their slaves properly.

“For anti-slavery people, the war is a judgment against the sin of slavery. But the war might also be a judgment on other transgressions. Preachers were very good at listing all the sins the nation was guilty of, both individually and collectively, including the treatment of the Indians, alcohol, gambling and swearing.”

Rable’s book encompasses a wide range of religious expression in the United States at the time, including Roman Catholicism, Mormonism and African-American religion. Roman Catholics had their own conflicted attitudes toward the war, as expressed in the Roman Catholic press at the time.

“The Catholic position is fascinating,” he said. “First of all there’s a range of opinion. You don’t have published Catholic sermons, but the Catholic press says at the beginning, if this were a Catholic nation, this war wouldn’t be happening. With the Protestants, you have schism and division, and the sectional conflict is the logical result of Protestantism. Their argument was that the Catholic Church could be a source of unity for the nation, and Catholics, both North and South, tended to be much more moderate. Northern Catholics ran the gamut from pro-slavery to anti-slavery.”

“God’s Almost Chosen People” also contains many anecdotes that illustrate how religion played an essential part in the war. For example, swearing was a big issue – Stonewall Jackson, Rable noted, believed that God would not bless soldiers in battle if they went in swearing. But the war helped forge bonds across sectarian lines as well. For example, Rable recounts the experiences of the Rev. Joseph Twichell, a congregational minister, and Father Joseph B. O’Hagan, a Jesuit priest, who were thrown together as chaplains in a New York regiment.

“The two young chaplains not only concluded a treaty of amity, peace and cooperation but soon became fast friends,” Rable said. “While Twichell still worried about a priest placing himself between a dying man and , he saw that O’Hagan had reasonable views on matters of . For his part,Twichell sounded increasingly less dogmatic about the truths of Protestantism. One cold night, shortly after the Battle of Fredericksburg, they lay down to sleep, putting their blankets together to stay warm. O’Hagan began laughing, confiding to Twichell how the situation amused him – a Jesuit priest and a New England puritan minister of the worst sort lying close together under the same blanket. ‘I wonder what the angels think.’ He quickly answered his own question: ‘I think they like it.’”

Rable noted that despite the extensive scope of his volume, the subject of religion during the remains so vast that still more materials await researchers.

“One of the problems with the project is that there’s material on religion everywhere,” he said. “I still run across new information. I never tired of researching it and writing about it, and there’s still much work to be done on the subject.

Cliff J. Doerksen: Northwestern University professor remembered for “unusual” career

Source: Daily Northwestern, 1-5-11

Cliff Doerkson Courtesy of Elizabeth Gomez/Chicago Reader

Despite his academic reputation, Cliff J. Doerksen will be best remembered for his quick-witted, eclectic humor.

The Northwestern professor, historian and journalist died in his Oak Brook apartment from unknown causes on Dec. 17. He was 47.

Doerksen didn’t teach for long at NU, having started at the Harvey Kapnick Business Institutions Program  last spring. Still, the professor, who was to teach a class on the history of advertising this quarter, deeply affected those who knew him.

Doerksen was born in 1963 in Alberta, Canada, but he also lived in Winnipeg and Nova Scotia, as his family moved frequently. Fluent in both French and English, he attended Concordia University in Montreal, where he became interested in history. Doerksen went on to attend Princeton University, where he received a Ph.D. in American history and met his wife….READ MORE

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