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How Congress Evolves

Social Bases of Institutional Change

Nelson W. Polsby

Publication Date - April 2005

ISBN: 9780195182965

272 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

In Stock

Offers a unique explanation for important transformations in the congressional environment


In this greatly entertaining tale of one of our most august institutions, Nelson Polsby argues that among other things, from the 50's to the 90's, Congress evolved. In short, Polsby argues that air conditioning altered the demography of the southern states, which in turn changed the political parties of the South, which transformed the composition and in due course the performance of the US House of Representatives. This evolutionary process led to the House's liberalization and later to its transformation into an arena of sharp partisanship, visible among both Democrats and Republicans. How Congress Evolves breathes new life into the dusty corners of institutional history, and offers a unique explanation for important transformations in the congressional environment.

About the Author(s)

Nelson Polsby is Heller Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley where he has taught American politics and government since 1967. A close Congress watcher for more than 40 years, he is the author of, among others, Congress and the Presidency, and Presidential Elections (with Aaron Wildavsky, 10th edition.) He is editor of the Annual Review of Political Science and writes often for the Op-ed pages of the LA Times, Boston Globe, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.


"A fascinating history of how the House has developed." --The New York Review of Books

"Polsby's How Congress Evolves is crisply written and argued, moving logically toward an explanation of how Congress changes over time. It should be read by anyone serious about the subject of how political institutions evolve."--The Weekly Standard

"A new work on Congress by one of the most prominent scholars of American government in the past half century is a major event.... How Congress Evolves is an intelligent, eminently readable and accessible study that accurately summarizes how Congress has changed in the last half century and the reasons behind that change.... Nelson Polsby has produced another valuable addition to his considerable corpus of scholarship on American government that will assist congressional experts, undergraduate and graduate students, and the politically aware general reader in understanding the contemporary Congress."--Perspectives on Politics

"In this very readable, memoir-like book, the author develops a comprehensive account to explain the historical evolution of the U.S. House of Representatives over the past half-century. Unparalleled by related studies in its breadth, the book links several causal arguments to show how societal changes exogenous to political institutions have profound consequences within them."--Review of Politics

"Polsby, one of the nation's leading congressional scholars, presents a short, readable, and insightful book about institutional change that will have enduring value. This will most certainly become a classic."--Choice

Table of Contents

    I. The House in Sam Rayburn's Time
    A Conservative House: 1937-1957
    After the 1958 Election: Frustration
    The Rump Session of 1960
    Packing the Rules Committee by Avoiding the Democratic Caucus: 1961
    II. Toward Liberalization
    Succession to Rayburn
    Conflict within the Caucus: Liberals against the Leadership, 1963
    Incremental Committee Packing: Appropriations, 1963
    Republican Committee Packing: Maintaining the Party Mainstream, 1961-1963
    The Landslide: 1964
    The Democratic Study Group Uses the Caucus: 1967-72
    Fallout from Watergate: The Caucus Puts Seniority under Siege
    A Remodeled House
    III. Causes of Liberalization
    The House Democratic Caucus
    The Rise of the Two-Party South
    Southern Republicans in the 1990s: A Group Portrait
    IV. Consequences: Toward a More Responsible Two-Party System?
    The Retreat from Bipartisanship in Committee
    Two Strategies of Opposition
    An Era of Ill-Feeling
    Tyranny Tempered by Assassination
    V. Overview: How Congress Evolves
    Innovation and Stalemate
    Overview of the House
    Stories about Change
    Appendix: Methods and Sources

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