SOTU: A brief history

Did you know the State of the Union used to be delivered in a thick written report instead of spoken to a joint session of Congress? That minority responses didn’t begin until 1966?

Democrats Look to Pivot From Milestones to Today's Priorities

Dingell with the gavel he used when he presided over the vote to pass Medicare. ( Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Wielding the gavel he held nearly 50 years ago to the day, former Rep. John D. Dingell told a group gathered in the Capitol Visitor Center Wednesday, “We did it! Now let’s see some real enthusiasm," adding, "They fought us all the way.”  

The Michigan Democrat was back in the Capitol  to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid becoming law. At the House Democratic event, Dingell waved the same gavel he held when he presided over that historic vote a half century ago — and that House Minority Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., used for the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Along with Medicare and Medicaid, Democrats are taking a series of other legislative victory laps this summer, including marking the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and the 80th anniversary of Social Security.  

Guns and Members, When Congress Protected Itself

Before there were Capitol Police to protect Congress (and leave their guns stashed in bathrooms ), lawmakers tended to their own security — and their own weaponry.  

And through much of the first half of the 19th century, whenever political tensions began to run high, guns were likely to appear on the hips of members. Jonathan Cilley, a member of the House from Maine, was killed in a duel by Kentucky Rep. William J. Graves in February 1838 over a dispute involving a bribery accusation Cilley made on the House floor.  

Hill Memorial for Rep. Robert Kastenmeier Is Wednesday

Obey will lead the ceremony for Kastenmeier. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

There will be a memorial service for former Rep. Robert Kastenmeier on Wednesday. The Wisconsin Democrat died March 20 at age 91. The event will take place at 10 a.m. in 2237 Rayburn, with former Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., emceeing the ceremony.  

Delivering on the Free Exercise Clause

No Sunday service, any more at least. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Two centuries before there were debates over insurance coverage for contraception or cakes for gay weddings, Congress spent two decades — off and on — debating religious freedom in a somewhat more esoteric context: delivery of the mail on Sunday.  

That debate began with a man named Hugh Wylie, a shopkeeper and postmaster in the frontier town of Washington, Pa. Postmaster was a great job when Wylie got it in 1803. He was paid $1,000 a year, more than three times what a typical workingman could expect to earn. Like any good patronage employee, Wylie helped out his family and installed his son, David, as deputy postmaster. Wylie was also a pillar of the community, serving as an elder in the Presbyterian church.