In This Review

The American Senate: An Insider's History
The American Senate: An Insider's History
By Neil MacNeil and Richard A. Baker
Oxford University Press, 2013, 472 pp

This is a rich repository of information about the quirkiest branch of the U.S. government. The Founding Fathers believed that the House of Representatives would emerge as the more powerful of the two legislative chambers; instead, from early times, the Senate has overshadowed its larger partner. In the Senate’s so-called golden age (roughly 1820 to 1854), debates among such giants as Daniel Webster, John Calhoun, and Henry Clay over slavery and the nature of the federal union transfixed the country, and the Senate became the chamber that addressed the most consequential questions of the day. In the twentieth century, the Senate maintained its supremacy over the House even as Congress as a whole lost ground to the presidency and the Supreme Court. For some, the Senate’s overrepresentation of small states makes it suspect, and bitter fights over its arcane rules continue to draw criticism. Nevertheless, the Senate remains one of the founders’ most successful creations, and The American Senate will help readers understand why.