eric schickler and john sides
Intergenerational Warfare: The Senate Decentralizes Appropriations
Legislative Studies Quarterly XXV:551-75

Most accounts portray the 1890–1910 period of congressional history as an exemplary instance of highly centralized party government. However, we contend that this interpretation obscures other important forces driving institutional development during this time. In 1899, the Senate approved a rule change dispersing jurisdiction over appropriations bills. This change added a significant centrifugal element to the Senate committee system. Taking advantage of new evidence, in particular a petition circulated by supporters of the reform, we assess competing explanations for the appropriations decentralization. We find that junior senators’ demands for increased access to power played an important role in this change. By contrast, partisan considerations played an insignificant role. The 1899 reform indicates the relevance of a causal variable that scholars have typically ignored: “intergenerational warfare” among members of Congress who differ in seniority level. Sectional differences were another key motivation for decentralization. This change, therefore, not only forces a reevaluation of the depiction of the turn-of-the-century Senate as a highly centralized institution, but also suggests the multiple kinds of coalitions that drive congressional development.


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